Defense, Prosecution in 'Hebron Shooter' Appeal Ordered to Seek Compromise

Elor Azaria is appealing 'severity' of manslaughter conviction and 18-month jail sentence for killing Palestinian assailant last year while latter was lying on ground badly wounded. Meanwhile, prosecution is appealing sentence's 'leniency'

Elor Azaria with his parents at the Military Court of Appeals on May 28, 2017.
David Bachar

The Military Court of Appeals has ordered both sides in the case of soldier Elor Azaria to discuss reaching a compromise on the appeal.

Azaria was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison in February for killing a Palestinian assailant, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in Hebron last year while the latter was already lying on the ground badly wounded. Azaria is appealing both his conviction and the severity of his sentence, while the prosecution is appealing the leniency of the sentence.

The presiding judge in the appeal, Maj. Gen. Doron Piles, said efforts to reach a compromise would be in “the public and the military’s interest.” He told the prosecution to report back within a week on whether any progress had been made.

About six hours into Sunday’s hearing, one of the three judges hearing the appeal – former Jerusalem District Court President Zvi Segal – proposed that the parties meet “to overcome the crises of the past.” The Military Court of Appeals will rule if necessary, he said, “but in this appeal, any outcome is problematic.”

Neither the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Nadav Weisman, nor the defense attorney, Yoram Sheftel, greeted the proposal enthusiastically. Weisman objected outright, saying, “There must be a judicial decision in this case,” while Sheftel demanded that the judges propose a formal mediation process. But the court rejected both sides’ demands.

Soldiers, others who saw shooting didn't seem bothered

Weisman argued that a ruling was necessary because Azaria’s sentence “doesn’t fit his crime or the importance of the issue. It doesn’t match his deviation from the norms.”

But Segal retorted, “What’s not in dispute is one very troubling fact. We watched the video footage. We saw the shooting. But we didn’t see the pillars of the earth trembling for anyone at the scene following the shooting.”

Weisman admitted this, but insisted, “That doesn’t tell us much. I haven’t heard from a single soldier that there was such as norm” as shooting a wounded terrorist.

Asked by Segal how, if so, he explained the lack of reaction, Weisman said the camera was focused on the terrorist’s head, so the onlookers’ reactions can’t be seen.

Weisman then reiterated his plea that the judges issue a ruling. The appeals court is currently “sitting on one of the most important cases,” he said, and its job “is to determine the facts and, even more important, set norms and a suitable punishment.” But the judges refused to budge from their decision to order the sides to negotiate.

Earlier, Segal had hammered away at Sheftel, noting that while the attorney claims his client made an honest mistake, Azaria himself has never said he erred. “It’s a terribly short sentence [for Azaria to utter], but terribly important,” Segal said, adding that he read through the entire case file in search of it. “But from the shooting until today, this sentence, ‘I made a mistake,’ has never been said."

Sheftel insisted that even so, “From a legal standpoint, it’s clear this was an honest mistake.”

The third judge, Brig. Gen. Avi Peled, asked Sheftel, “Why did Azaria act differently from everyone else? Everyone is standing with their backs to the terrorist. How is it that they don’t sense danger and the appellant does?”

Sheftel replied, “Because he saw the terrorist’s hand move.” But Peled retorted that the scene is full of armed soldiers and armed civilians, yet nobody else opened fire.

Azaria is currently under open arrest on his army base, but his military service ends on July 20. Thus, if his appeal hasn’t been decided by then, a new panel of judges would have to decide whether he should remain under arrest and under what conditions.