Officer in Hebron Shooter's Company Says Other Soldiers Now Gun-shy

Criticism of Elor Azaria, charged with manslaughter, 'seeps in, influences what they think,' says deputy company commander.

Israel Defense Forces soldier Elor Azaria, the so-called Hebron shooter, with his lawyer in the courtroom in Jaffa, on Aug. 28, 2016.
Nir Keidar

In his testimony on Thursday on behalf of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the soldier accused of manslaughter for shooting and killing a Palestinian assailant lying gravely wounded on the ground, the defendant’s deputy company commander said discussion of the case after the shooting made his soldiers leery about opening fire. The witness added that the soldiers were influenced by commanders who insisted that Azaria was lying about what happened.

Azaria’s deputy company commander, identified as Y., who was not at the scene of the March 24 shooting in Hebron, said: “I hear soldiers saying that if there is a terrorist, as long as he doesn’t endanger them, they won’t open fire so they don’t run the risk.” He added: “Ultimately, if you have conversations all the time on something that is improper and prohibited, it seeps in and in my opinion it influences what they think about the incident itself.”

Y. said the official line was that Azaria was lying, a position that he said was conveyed by both the brigade and company commanders but less so by the battalion commander.

Azaria is accused of fatally shooting the assailant in the head. The prosecution claims the assailant, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, was lying virtually motionless on the ground after being shot several times following his stabbing of a soldier, and posed no threat to Azaria or any of the bystanders at the scene. Azaria insists he shot Sharif because he believed he was carrying a concealed bomb.

Another witness on Thursday, Magen David Adom paramedic Zaki Yahav, who was present at the scene of the incident, said there was indeed fear that the terrorist was carrying explosives that could explode. Asked on cross-examination why he didn’t say that when questioned by military police investigators, Yahav replied that his answers didn’t fully express his thoughts, the investigator wasn’t posing questions “in this direction,” and “therefore I tried to make it short and wrap up the process as quickly as possible.”

On Tuesday, a member of the Hebron Jewish community emergency response team, Asher Horowitz, backed Azaria’s claim that he thought Sharif might have been wearing a suicide vest.

In another development in the case, the court allowed Azaria to be released from custody for 24 hours to visit his father, who is hospitalized at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.