The lawyers for Elor Azaria, the Kfir Brigade soldier who shot a wounded and disarmed Palestinian assailant in Hebron in March, submitted their response Tuesday to their client's manslaughter indictment. They argue that similar cases in the past resulted in a mere rebuke, and thus the current charge amounts to discrimination. The lawyers also say that it is not clear whether the shot the soldier fired at the terrorist’s head is actually what killed him.
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In the military court in Jaffa, Azaria’s lawyers cited two cases which they say were similar to this incident, but were not prosecuted: the shooting last July by Binyamin Brigade Commander Yisrael Shomer of a 17-year-old who threw rocks and fled, and the shooting by a police volunteer of the terrorist in the Jaffa terror attack in early March.
The military prosecutor, Lt. Col. (res.) Nadav Weisman, asserted that the cases are not alike. “Neither of the cases cited by the defense is at all similar [to the one at hand]. It is different from the incident where the arrest procedure of a suspect is in progress (Shomer), or in cases where no clear determination has been made (Jaffa),” Weisman responded, adding, “We are not talking about some trivial, borderline offense for which there is this or that type of enforcement policy, or under-enforcement. This is manslaughter. When there is evidence that appears to show that such a serious crime was committed, an indictment must be filed. This is not a borderline case. It is a clear case that must be brought to trial.”
Azaria’s lawyers also argued that it is not certain that the bullet he fired was what killed the terrorist, and thus they plan to question the pathologist who performed the autopsy. It's possible the shots caused the man's death, the lawyers allowed, but in any event they did incapacitate him. The first evidentiary hearing in the case is scheduled for next Wednesday.
Lieberman: Let army legal staff do its work
At the conclusion of today’s hearing in Jaffa, one of the soldier's four lawyers, Ilan Katz, said no change in the proceedings are expected in the wake of Avigdor Lieberman’s expected appointment as defense minister. However, Katz added, “When there is someone at the top of the system [i.e., Lieberman] who has clearly stated his opinion on the matter, the prosecution will certainly look 'upward,' as well. I believe that the military prosecution is now operating with less tension and I expect the effects of this to be seen in the future.”
The minister-designate was present at one of the earlier hearings, on extending Azaria’s remand, declared that the prosecution should rescind the indictment against the soldier, and called the manslaughter charge “distorted.”
Commenting on the case today, Lieberman said, however, “Even [if I am] defense minister, the military legal systems must be allowed to do their work unhindered. We will accept any ruling or decision of the military court. It bothered me that conclusions were being drawn before the court made its determination.”