Hebron Settlement Security Chief: Sgt. Azaria Was Right to Shoot Subdued Assailant

Yoni Bleichbard tells a military court that the soldier was right to kill the Palestinian who had stabbed an Israeli soldier in the West Bank settlement.

Gili Cohen
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Sgt. Elor Azaria in military court in April 2016.
Sgt. Elor Azaria in military court in April 2016. Credit: Ariel Schalit/AP
Gili Cohen

Sgt. Elor Azaria, who is on trial for manslaughter for shooting a Palestinian assailant who lay wounded on the ground in Hebron, was correct in his actions, the settlement’s civilian security chief said Wednesday in military court.

Azaria, who shot and killed Abdel Fattah al-Sharif on March 24, said he thought Sharif might also be carrying a bomb. Sharif and another Palestinian had stabbed an Israeli soldier.

On Wednesday the head of security settlement in Hebron, Yoni Bleichbard, told a military court in Jaffa that he had witnessed the event and did not report it as an irregular shooting. “As far as I’m concerned, there was nothing unusual,” Bleichbard said.

The commander of the Hebron Brigade, Col. Yariv Ben-Ezra, testified at an earlier hearing that Bleichbard had reported the shooting as unusual.

The pathologist who performed the autopsy, Hadas Gips, is due to testify later Wednesday for the prosecution. Another pathologist, Prof. Yehuda Hiss, has testified that it cannot be proved whether Sharif was still alive when Azaria shot him.

On Wednesday, Bleichbard was asked by Azaria’s lawyer what he told the commander.

“Throughout the incident, from the very beginning, and who knows, maybe even before, the event was being filmed by B’Tselem. I see that the whole event was filmed, and because Israel’s dignity matters to me, I note that there was one terrorist who was killed at the start and a second terrorist who was killed after a few minutes,” Bleichbard said.

“I say this because if, heaven forbid, Yariv [Ben-Ezra] says the two terrorists were neutralized at the same time and then B’Tselem’s video is released showing that things were not happening at the same time, Israel’s honor and credibility will suffer.”

Pressed on the discrepancy between his testimony and Ben Ezra’s, Bleichbard said, “I don’t know what the commander was thinking and what he understood. I indeed told him about the different times between the shootings. There was a shooting at the beginning and again after some time.”

In explaining the bomb suspicion, Bleichbard also said he had asked a Hebron resident who had parked his car next to where Sharif was lying to move it.

When describing the scene as he arrived, Bleichbard said, “I come to the site and report two neutralized terrorists, and amend the initial report that talked about a female terrorist.”

Bleichbard noted that an Israeli soldier was also wounded at the site. “I try to take care of things so that the wounded could be taken away from the scene,” he said, referring to the solider.

“Then at some stage I identify movement by one of the terrorists, the one with the black jacket. I amend my report to say that one of the terrorists is alive. Then came the shooting, and I report that it is ‘proper shooting by our forces.’”

He said that overall the scene was handled improperly, leading to the controversial incident.

“The scene was a great mess,” Bleichbard said. “We aren’t used to that sort of thing. I’m not some big chief of staff and wasn’t an officer in the army, but I’ve been at countless incidents . It was simply a mess.”

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