Thousands Rally for Soldier Who Shot Palestinian Assailant; Netanyahu Urges Calm

'He's a hero,' 'Release the soldier,' protesters chant in show of solidarity with Sgt. Elor Azaria in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square; news crew extricated after surrounded by crowd.

Thousand rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square for soldier who shot Palestinian assailant in Hebron. April 19, 2016.
Moti Milrod

Nearly 2,000 people rallied Tuesday evening for Sgt. Elor Azaria, an Israeli army medic who was indicted for manslaughter for shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant to death in Hebron last month.

Azaria’s supporters shouted slogans including “He’s a hero” and “Release the soldier.”

Police had to free a Channel 10 News crew after they were surrounded by protesters. The soldier’s father, Charlie, spoke to his son from the stage.

“You cannot believe how many people are here,” he said. “We have a sane nation, everyone is here. We are a strong people and we will not let anyone run us over.”

IDF soldier Elor Azaria is embraced at the military court, Jaffa, Israel, April 18, 2016.
Ilan Assayag

The soldier’s mother, Oshra, thanked the demonstrators and called on her son to be “strong for me. I raised you on the values of morality and patriotism. From a young age you wanted to be a combat soldier and give back to your country. I pray that we will be able to have the Passover seder together."

In anticipation of the protest at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Israelis to “lower the flames.”

“The IDF defends its soldiers. I am convinced that the investigation of the event in Hebron will be done responsibly and rationally,” Netanyahu said during talks with Singapore’s prime minister in Jerusalem.

“Our soldiers are not murderers. They operate against murderers, and I hope that a way will be found to find a balance between the act and the overall context of the event. In the meantime, I suggest we all lower the flames.”

Israeli rapper Subliminal and singer Moshik Afia were to perform at the protest against the prosecution of Azaria for last month's shooting. Two other singers canceled plans to appear.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog urged the soldier's family "not to turn this difficult and complicated incident into a campaign against the IDF."

"This is a protest by the far right with the aim of weakening the IDF's values," he said. "It's not for nothing that no cabinet member is attending the event. "

Herzog said the rally had "characteristics of sedition against agreed norms that we must all respect, particularly at this time."

Azaria, 20, from Ramle, joined the Kfir Brigade 20 months ago, trained as a combat medic and received a certificate of excellence.

Azaria’s lawyer said the incident in Hebron was the first time the soldier had been at the scene of an attack. His attorneys also said the soldier had no disciplinary record and was an outstanding soldier.

According to the indictment handed down Monday, Azaria shot 21-year-old Abdel Fattah al-Sharif after the Palestinian had been shot and wounded for attacking soldiers with a knife.

The shooting was in “violation of the rules of engagement, and without operational justification, while al-Sharif lay wounded on the ground ... and did not pose an immediate and a real threat to the defendant, civilians or soldiers in the area."