Hebron Shooter’s Lawyers to Appeal Verdict, Sentencing Set for January 15

Despite calls from politicians for Elor Azaria to be pardoned, the pardon process would be lengthy and complex.

Israelis protest in support of Elor Azaria outside his trial in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2017.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

The decision to convict soldier Elor Azaria of manslaughter over the killing of a prone Palestinian assailant in Hebron last March will be appealed, his attorneys said on Wednesday.

High-profile lawyer Yoram Sheftel, who is also a radio personality, will be joining the legal defense team, Azaria family spokesmgan Sharon Gal said.

Now that Azaria has been found guilty of killing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, sentencing in the case will proceed before the three-judge military court panel that found him guilty.

Security for the three has been stepped up in light of the passions that Azaria’s conviction has engendered among parts of the public. When Wednesday’s proceedings concluded, the military prosecutor in the case, Lt. Col. (Res.) Nadav Weisman, was also provided a security detail.

The sentencing has been scheduled for January 15. Usually, defendants charged with serious offenses such as manslaughter are held in custody until the end of legal proceedings, but in Azaria’s case, he was confined to his base instead. The decision was made by then-Brig. Gen. Judge Doron Piles, now a major general and president of the military appeals court. Azaria has spent the past nine months at his division command headquarters at the Nahshonim army base.

The fact that Azaria was confined to base and not in prison means that his time at the base would not be credited toward any prison sentence, although the judges might take this confinement to base into consideration when sentencing.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev sent a letter to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman seeking a pardon for Azaria, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday that the soldier should be pardoned immediately.

In private conversations, Lieberman himself has not ruled out the prospect, but the process of a pardon, which is granted by Israel’s president, is long and complex. The request to the president must come from the convicted defendant or his family, seeking a complete pardon or a reduced sentence, with supporting reasons.

The presidential spokesperson’s office said the process can only begin once the verdict is final and will be considered along with the recommendations of the relevant parties, which in Azaria’s case would include the military advocate general, Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek, and the head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, as well as Defense Minister Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

In addition, there is a separate procedure providing for the possible reduction of a sentence of those convicted of criminal offenses in the army. Senior commanders have the authority to reduce such sentences, for example by commuting actual jail time to a period of probation – but that would only be possible once Azaria is sentenced. If Azaria appeals his conviction, the sentence will be handed down by the military appeals court and the chief of staff would have the authority to reduce the charges.