Israel Defense Forces Lt. Col. David Shapira testified in military court on Tuesday, at the trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the soldier who shot to death a Palestinian attacker in Hebron two months ago.
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“I told Elor [Azaria] that I had a feeling he wasn’t exactly telling the truth. He was totally silent," Shapira, at the time the battalion commander of Azaria, said during his testimony. Shapira, now a battalion commander at the Bahad 1 officers training base, told the court that the shooting occurred at a point when Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who was lying wounded on the ground after committing an attack, no longer posed a threat.
Asked why he thought the incident was unusual, Shapira said, “Because the shooting did not happen at the initial stage when there was a real danger to the force that was under attack, but at a stage when the terrorist no longer posed a threat to those around him.”
The commander added, “Elor did not say anything to me about fearing a bomb, but only about fear of a knife that was lying, he said, next to the terrorist.”
Shapira noted that no one – “no civilian or soldier or police officer” – mentioned a concern that the terrorist might be carrying a bomb. He also said that when he checked the body of Sharif and of another Palestinian assailant at the scene – he didn’t find anything unusual.
Shapira told the court that he spoke with Azaria personally about an hour and a half after the shooting.
“I talked with him because I wanted to hear from him what happened and why he shot [the terrorist]. I asked Elor why he did the shooting and Elor told me [he] noticed that the terrorist was moving, head movements, and that he also spotted a knife next to the terrorist. I asked Elor, ‘You’re standing close to him: Why didn’t you kick the knife away from him? Why did you have to shoot him?’ And Elor said, ‘I felt I was in danger.’”
Shapira went on: “I told Elor I had the feeling he wasn’t exactly telling me the truth, since right after the incident he told the platoon commander something completely different. Elor was totally silent. I told him that I considered this an irregular event, shooting a wounded terrorist, and that he would be soon be sent for questioning by the Kfir Brigade commander, and I informed him that he was immediately suspended until the matter was clarified.
“Even if there was a knife, as Elor claimed when we spoke, the shooting was not justified because he could have eliminated the danger without resorting to shooting, especially in light of the fact that shooting also endangered the lives of other people who were nearby, including the platoon commander,” Shapira told the court.
He also testified that “a few days before the incident, Elor’s father Charlie called me and said that Elor wasn’t smiling anymore, because he was under a lot of stress since becoming a platoon medic, and the stress was affecting him. Before Independence Day, I gave out citations for excellence and Elor was selected as the outstanding soldier in the platoon. I want to point out that, from the beginning, Elor was one of the best soldiers in the Shimshon Battalion – without any disciplinary infractions, really dedicated and contributing to the platoon.”
On Monday two soldiers testified in the military court, including the soldier to whom Azaria handed his helmet prior to the shooting. The same soldier had previously been asked by military investigators if Azaria expressed remorse following the shooting, and had answered: “Elor said his friend had been stabbed and that they tried to kill him and therefore he also deserved to die. I didn’t hear him say that he was sorry, but I could see from the look on his fact that he didn’t know what to do and he looked stressed.”
The soldier confirmed that earlier testimony in the courtroom.
After the incident, the soldier told investigators that he didn’t think Azaria planned to shoot the terrorist. Monday in court, he said that he saw Azaria cock his weapon, but didn’t think he was going to fire.
“It’s not so unusual for soldiers to cock their weapons,” he told the court. “If I had thought he was going to shoot, I would have stopped him.”
The soldier added that he agrees with the feeling that the state hasn’t supported Azaria, and said, “During the incident, I wasn’t afraid. After the incident, when I understood the worries, I became afraid.”