IDF Soldier Suspected of Hebron Manslaughter: I Wouldn't Have Shot if I Had an Alternative

On his third day of testifying in court, Sgt. Lior Azaria, charged with manslaughter, insists yet again he feared the wounded Palestinian man lying on the ground had a hidden explosive.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Sgt. Elor Azaria in military court in April 2016.
Sgt. Elor Azaria in military court in April 2016. Credit: Ariel Schalit/AP
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Sgt. Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier charged with manslaughter for shooting to death a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron as he was lying on the ground, testified on Tuesday at his trial that he had fired at the man with the intent "to neutralize a danger," but may not have done so had he had an alternative.

"If I had an alternative, as far as I'm concerned, if I could have neutralized him without shooting, I would have done so," Azria said under cross-examination.

Prosecutor Col. Nadav Weisman trying to cast doubt on Azaria's previous testimony that the Palestinian man's coat and a knife lying on the ground made him suspect he had a hidden explosives.

Weisman showed the soldier the video clip that shows the shooting and asked him to point at when he looked like he was "on the alert."

He said the video looked as though he, Azariya, was behaving the same as everyone else, "except for that you shot the terrorist in the head without warning."

Azaria refused to attribute any signficance to the video tapes.

The judges chastised Azaria for refusing to comment on the videos. One of them Lt-Col Carmel Wahabi said that his refusal to discuss the video was disturbing. "You aren't commenting on the video, and I ask you, why? We weren't in the field with you, and the video is an excellent opportunity for you to present to us how you perceived the incident."

"As far as I'm concerned the videos are not the world of reality. I'm telling you I was on the alert," he said.

Azaria was also asked about the testimonies that he said that the terrorist "deserved to die" after the shooting. He responded that he doesn't remember saying that. The prosecutor reminded Azaria that both his Company Commander Maj. Tom Ne'eman and another soldier testified that they heard him say it. "I'm pretty sure I didn't say that sentence," Azaria said, "and if I said it, it was only a fragment of a sentence that was interpreted."

At this point, Judge Col. Maya Heller asked Azaria "You keep saying you don't remember saying that sentence, that terrorists should die. But on the other hand, you say that if you did say it then it is definitely a partial quote of other things you meant to say. And I ask you how is it possible that you are now interpreting something that you don't even know you said? How can you interpret something that you claim you didn't say?" Azaria answered "After the prosecutor said the sentence to me, then I can assume that if I said it then that was my intention. If they say something like that then apparently it was a partial sentence.

The prosecutor pressed Azaria again and again who he may have told about his fear that the wounded Palestinian man, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, had a hidden bomb on him. Azaria said he couldn' remember.

He said he told a woman medic he had spoken to on the phone after the shooting that he had feared there was a bomb. The issue was not mentioned, however, in testimony already provided by the medic.

Sharif had been lying on the ground after being shot during his involvement in an incident in which another soldier was stabbed and wounded.

Azaria insisted that the assailant's jacket was suspicious, but the prosecutor said it was an in season garment and that other people in the area were similarly dressed.

Azaria also said that he saw a knife next to the terrorirst's hand although the video shows it was far away when the shooting occurred.

Asked whether he consciously intended to kill the terrorists Azaria replied that he understood that by shooting him in the head he was "apparently taking the life of a terrorist, but a human being."

The prosecutor asked Azaria about a conversation he had had with a comrade before the shooting, where Azaria was told that the terrorist was dying and that a demolitions expert had been called to the scene.

Another soldier had testified about that conversation in court. Azairya had said in his testimony that he didn't remember that conversation.

When questionined earlier by military police Azaria had said that such a conversation definitely never took place.

Azaria testified twice before this week. He accused a commander on Monday of lying under oath regarding the details of what took place in the March 24 shooting. He accused IDF top brass on Sunday of seeking to "throw him to the dogs" by prosecuting him for having acted to minimize a danger that may have cost other lives.

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