Officer Who Shot Palestinian Stone Thrower Cannot Testify in Hebron Case, Israeli Military Court Rules

Military court rejects bid by lawyers defending Azaria, the so-called Hebron shooter, to bring in IDF officer Yisrael Shomer, whose case they believe is similar.

IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria during his trial in the Jaffa Military Court, Sept. 25, 2016.
Nir Keidar

The military judges hearing the case of the so-called Hebron shooter, Sgt. Elor Azaria, have rejected his lawyers' request to allow a senior officer in the Israel Defense Force to testify in court.

Last Thursday the lawyers asked the Jaffa Military Court to allow Israel Defense Forces Col. Yisrael Shomer to testify at the trial of Azaria, who has been accused of manslaughter in the killing of an incapacitated Palestinian terrorist in March.

The attorneys claim that Shomer can explain why he himself shot a Palestinian teen on July 3, 2015 at the Qalandiyah checkpoint in the West Bank after the young man threw a stone at his car. Shomer fled from the site and the teen later succumbed to his injuries.

Azaria's attorneys apparently hoped that testimony by Shomer, a former commander of the Binyamin Brigade, would demonstrate that the two cases are similar, and that unfair and selective enforcement of the law is being used against Azaria, while the investigative file by the Military Police against Shomer was closed.

Already at the start of proceedings against Azaria, the defense declared that prosecuting him for the killing of the terrorist, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, constitutes discrimination.

The lawyers had cited the Shomer case as an instance in which they felt the IDF military advocate general had acted differently than in the Azaria trial.

For his part, the prosecutor, Lt. Col. (res.) Nadav Weisman, said that the cases were not similar.

It was decided, however, that the court would be able to review parts of the MAG’s opinion in the Shomer case. After the panel of judges received that information, they decided to reject the request of Azaria's defense to summon the officer to testify.

Judge Lt. Col. Ronen Shor ruled that there was no basis to the claim that there has been any differential or selective enforcement in the Azaria case.

When Col. Shomer fired at 17-year-old Mohammed Kosbah at the checkpoint, it was after he himself had been attacked by a stone thrown at his car. Shomer got out of the vehicle and started chasing the fleeing Palestinian, initiating the procedure for detaining a suspect, including firing into the air; two of the bullets hit the Kosbah, fatally wounding him.

The shooting of Mohammad Kosba by the commander of the Binyamin Brigade, Shomer; B'Tselem

Military Police investigators decided not to launch any criminal procedures against Shomer.

In the opinion of the MAG, Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek, the shooting itself was justified in the context of the regulations for detaining a suspect. However, he noted that Col. Shomer fired while in motion, which is contradictory to military instructions, and constitutes “a professional error but of the kind that was made under clearly operational circumstances.”

By contrast, Elor Azaria opened fire 11 minutes after a member of his company was stabbed by Sharif, and after arriving on the scene in his capacity as a medic. In court the soldier has claimed that he shot the incapacitated Palestinian, who was lying on the ground, because he was afraid Sharif would activate an explosive device. Earlier in the trial, according to the testimony of his commanders, Azaria gave other explanations – including that he fired shots because the terrorist moved, because “he has to die,” or because he was afraid that Sharif would be able to reach a knife that was lying some distance away from him.

Members of the prosecution believe that Azaria may have shot Sharif without justification and out of revenge.

When Gen. (res.) Dan Biton testified on behalf of the defense, he claimed that Shomer’s acts were done to “exact a price,” and later went on to tell the media that, “There’s a double standard in the cases of Elor Azaria and Yisrael Shomer.”