- Title: Israel awaits verdict in divisive soldier shooting case
- Date: 3rd January 2017
- Summary: HEBRON, WEST BANK (FILE - MARCH 24, 2016) (VIDEO OBTAINED BY REUTERS) ISRAELI SOLDIER ELOR AZARIA SHOOTING WOUNDED PALESTINIAN ASSAILANT LAYING ON GROUND VARIOUS OF AMBULANCE, SOLDIERS AT SITE AND BODY LYING ON THE GROUND
- Embargoed: 18th January 2017 12:32
- Keywords: Israel Palestinians soldier Hebron court verdict
- Location: JAFFA, NEVE ILAN, HERZLIYA, ISRAEL/HEBRON, WEST BANK
- City: JAFFA, NEVE ILAN, HERZLIYA, ISRAEL/HEBRON, WEST BANK
- Country: Israel
- Topics: Conflicts/War/Peace
- Reuters ID: LVA0025XIZE4N
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS MATERIAL WHICH WAS ORIGINALLY 4:3
Last March, Sergeant Elor Azaria, a 19-year-old Israeli army medic deployed to the occupied West Bank, shot and killed a Palestinian assailant as he lay wounded and immobile after attempting to stab an Israeli soldier.
The shooting, and the tense moments leading up to it, were captured on video by a Palestinian human rights activist in the city of Hebron. The footage, distributed to news organisations, ensured that the incident, which came in the midst of a wave of Palestinian stabbings, drew international attention.
Azaria, now 20, was charged with manslaughter and put on trial in a military court, with the verdict due on Wednesday (January 4).
The case has divided Israel, with many citizens, right-wing politicians and some celebrities rallying behind Azaria, saying he is being made a scapegoat and should be let off lightly.
His actions, they say, were justified by the barrage of Palestinian violence and the general atmosphere of alarm in Hebron, a city where hundreds of Israeli settlers, under heavy army protection, live among some 200,000 Palestinians.
On the other side stand serving members of the military establishment, who say the shooting cannot be countenanced, that Azaria, who made far-right, anti-Palestinian postings on Facebook before being conscripted, acted in cold blood and outside military procedures.
"An 18-year-old man who enlists in the Israeli army is not 'everyone's child'," Lieutenant-General Gadi Eisenkot, the chief of staff, said in a speech on Tuesday (January 3), remarks that were seen as a rebuke to the public campaign in support of Azaria, whose mother was often shown in news photos hugging her son in court.
While acknowledging the dialogue among the public and online, Eisenkot said the army was not elected by the public or shaped by popular surveys.
The case has prompted sharp words and controversy from the very beginning. At the scene just before the shooting, the video shows local Israeli settler leaders standing among the soldiers and seemingly directing elements of the response.
Initially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed his then defence minister, Moshe Yaalon, in his criticism of Azaria's actions. But then Naftali Bennett, a far-right party leader in Netanyahu's coalition who draws strong backing from the settler movement, came out in firm support of Azaria.
Surveys showed the public backed the soldier -- in one poll, nearly half of Israeli Jews agreed that any Palestinian who carries out an attack should be killed on the spot. Palestinians were outraged, but their alarm hardly figured in the public debate in Israel, which dominated television and the internet.
Netanyahu's tune appeared to change. He took the unusual step of calling Azaria's parents to express his sympathy.
"As a father of a soldier, I understand your distress," he told them, adding that he was confident the military justice system would be "professional and fair" with their son.
Shortly afterwards, Yaalon quit, with the issue of Azaria one of several differences with Netanyahu's administration.
Rallies in support of Azaria, some of them backed by right-wing politicians and pop singers, gathered momentum. Despite the high-level charges against him, Azaria was not remanded in custody but allowed on "open arrest" at his base.
Channel 2 'Six O'clock News' anchor Oded Ban Ami, who served as the Israeli army spokesperson in the past, explained the controversy and said that public figures have used the debate for political purposes.
"What he did was against the values of the IDF. You never shoot a disabled terrorist, you never shoot a disabled person. And on the other hand, there is the other group that thinks that what he did was the right thing. Why? Because this was a terrorist and a terrorist must die," said Ben Ami.
"Politicians took this case to the wrong direction and made a discussion, a political discussion," Ben Ami added.
In Hebron, the family of the Palestinian assailant who was shot dead by Azaria, voiced anger and said they hoped for a harsh punishment.
"I wouldn't say no if he receives the death sentence. If every soldier who kills someone receives a sentence for life in prison and afterwards, his body will not be buried, that's what I wish for," said Yousri Abd Elfatah Ashareef, father of the assailant.
The manslaughter charge can carry a jail term of up to 20 years, although legal commentators have suggested a sentence of four to five years is more likely if he is found guilty.
Ahead of the verdict, Azaria's family members and supporters have declared that the trial cannot have been fair because of the public outcry and debate the case has provoked.
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