Sergeant Elor Azaria was charged with manslaughter in an Israeli military court on Monday after a video emerged, which appears to show the soldier fatally shooting a wounded Palestinian in the head. As criminal prosecution of an active serviceman is rare, the indictment has become a point of heated controversy.
According to Washington Post, military officers criticized the officer’s conduct, whereas many residents have rallied to his defense, lambasting the government for abandoning one of their own during a period of incessant clashes with the Palestinians.
The shooting, which was reportedly carried out by Sergeant Elor Azaria, occurred in the West Bank city of Hebron which has been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestine fighting for the last seven months.
— The Washington Times (@WashTimes) April 18, 2016
Two Palestinians were reportedly killed after they stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli soldier. However, a video, made available by a human rights group, appears to prove one of the attackers was still alive.
Jerusalem Post reports the amateur video shows a soldier, who was identified as Azaria, cocking his rifle and deliberately shooting the assailant in the head. An autopsy revealed the Palestinian died as a result of the gunshot wound.
In their formal complaint, the military prosecutors contend Elor Azaria “acted in contrast to the rules of opening fire, and without any operational justification, because the Palestinian, Abdel-Fattah al-Sharif, did not present a clear and present threat.”
Azaria’s attorney, Ilan Katz, said his client did not use excessive or unwarranted force, and therefore, the charges should be dismissed.
RT Thalwen: He murdered on video and Israel says “reasonable doubt,”releases murderer Elor Azaria … pic.twitter.com/NqteyBISsS
— Anonymous Morpheus (@anony_morph) March 30, 2016
Beginning in September 2015, Palestinians have killed an estimated 28 Israelis and two Americans. In contrast, more than 189 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces.
Palestinians have accused Israeli soldiers of using brutal force against attackers even after they surrendered or were seriously injured. Some human rights activists have supported these claims and believe the Hebron video provides conclusive proof.
Human rights groups have also argued that Israeli forces do little to punish soldiers accused of committing crimes. A prominent human rights group, Yesh Din, said more than 2,600 investigations were opened against Israeli soldiers between 2000 and 2014. However, only 5 percent of those accused were indicted.
WARNING GRAPHIC VIDEO
Yesh Din cited a report which states that out of 262 Palestinian deaths since 2000, only 16 resulted in indictments. In many cases, the indictments were either dismissed or ended up in lesser convictions.
It was only the death of a British-pro Palestinian activist, who was killed by army gunfire in 2004, that yielded a manslaughter conviction. The soldier, who was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison, was released after five years.
In stark contrast, Elor Azaria has received undaunting support from many citizen groups who believe the soldier clearly shot Abdel-Fattah al-Sharif in self-defense. Azaria contends the Palestinian appeared to be wearing an explosive belt, and he was simply trying to prevent mass casualties.
Right-wing politicians have also expressed their support of Elor Azaria’s actions, citing Palestinians who have targeted seemingly innocent Israelis on the streets.
A Tel Aviv rally supporting Elor Azaria is currently being planned, with top Israeli musicians billed to perform. However, one of those musicians, Eval Golan, opted out as a sign of respect for the military.
Yohanan Plesner of the Israel Democracy Institute agreed with Golan’s decision, stating the demonstration would be disrespectful to the military institution because the soldier clearly violated ethical norms.
As both sides are passionate about their support, or disdain, for Elor Azaria’s decision, and the ongoing conflict in general, the issue is likely to remain a point of heated controversy.