Trial of Soldier Charged With Killing Palestinian Terrorist Opens Monday

Elor Azaria will be accused of manslaughter in Hebron incident in the first case since 2004 that an IDF soldier stands accused of manslaughter committed during duty.

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

A panel of judges at the Jaffa military court will read out the indictment filed against Israel Defense Forces soldier Elor Azaria Monday, charging him with manslaughter for shooting a prone Palestinian assailant dead in Hebron and signaling the beginning of the trial in the highly polarizing case.

According to the charge sheet, Azaria shot terrorist Abdel Fattah al-Sharif contrary to the rules of engagement and with no operative justification, when Sharif was lying wounded on the ground and did not pose a clear and immediate danger. The prosecution is also charging Azaria with inappropriate conduct.

Israeli soldiers surround the body of one of the two Palestinians who were killed after attacking a soldier in Hebron, March 24, 2016.
AFP

Azaria is being held in open detention, which is similar to military confinement, until the conclusion of the legal proceedings in his case. He is prohibited from carrying a weapon and from having contact with any of the witnesses in the case.

In the previous hearing on his case, the judge, Lt. Col. Ronen Shor, wrote, “There is ostensibly a certain evidentiary basis for a manslaughter charge, but the strength of the evidence is weak and the degree of criminality in the defendant’s actions may be lower than what the prosecution attributes to him.”

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The soldier originally faced a potential murder charge after a video emerged in March in which he could be seen cocking his rifle and shooting a prone and subdued Palestinian who, moments before, had tried to stab another Israeli soldier. An autopsy later revealed that the shot to the head had resulted in the Palestinian's death. Just a few days prior to the autopsy, a military tribunal ruled that charges against the soldier would be reduced to manslaughter.

The panel that will read out the indictment against Azaria is likely to be the same panel that will conduct the entire trial. Usually, when cases are brought before the military courts the head of the panel is a professional judge with legal training, while the two other judges are officers affiliated with the court’s area of jurisdiction. The expectation is that in this case the panel will include two judges who are professional jurists and one additional judge who does not have that same legal background.

This is the first time since 2004 that an IDF soldier stands accused of manslaughter committed during active duty. In 2004, Taysir al-Heib, from the Bedouin reconnaissance battalion, was accused of killing left-wing British activist Tom Hurndall during a demonstration in Rafah. The military court sentenced him to eight years.

After the trail, in 2006, the IDF issued an informational booklet about the matter that said, “Beyond the grave outcome of the incident [the loss of human life], the accused’s actions also caused severe damage to the IDF’s image and to the credibility of its investigations and reports Even during a time in which Israel is being subjected to murderous terror, IDF soldiers are required to hold their weapon and employ its lethal power to the extent required to fulfill their mission and not beyond that, and to ensure that they do everything in their power to avoid harming the lives, physical wellbeing and dignity of people outside the sphere of combat.”