Defending Hebron Shooter, Witness Says IDF Commanders Have Political Motives

Member of Hebron's emergency response squad defends Azaria's claim that prone terrorist might have been wearing an explosive device; says IDF commander is 'a leftist' whose testimony is marred by disdain for settlers.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
Israel Defense Forces soldier Elor Azaria, the so-called Hebron shooter, with his mother in the courtroom in Jaffa, on Aug. 30, 2016.
IDF soldier Elor Azaria in court. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, an Israel Defense Forces soldier who is accused of manslaughter in the shooting of a Palestinian terrorist in Hebron, continued on Tuesday morning in the Jaffa military court.

The first defense witness was Asher Horowitz, a member of the Jewish settlement of Hebron's emergency response team. He backed Azaria's story that at the time of the shooting there was a fear that the terrorist was carrying an explosive device or a weapon and even went as far as claiming that army commanders testifying against Azaria were motivated by their left wing politics.

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Asher Horowitz, a member of the Jewish settlement of Hebron's emergency response team, at trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria for shooting of prone Hebron terrorist. August 30, 2016 Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Blasting the testimony of the outgoing Judea Brigade commander, Col. Yariv Ben Ezra, and the company commander Maj. Tom Naaman, Horowitz claimed their testimony, which said the shooting was unjustified, was influenced by their political views.

"From my minor familiarity with Tom, the company commander, I can say that he is clearly a leftist, who unfortunately, in contradiction to my expectation that he would handle the incident in a professional manner, is mixing in his groundless personal opinions about the settlements' residents," he said in reference to Hebron's settlers.

Horowitz also backed Azaria's claim that he thought the prone terrorist still posed a threat and was possibly wearing a suicide vest. "At first I thought that the terrorists were dead, until I heard the shouts of my friends from the emergency squad, 'Careful, he moved, it's quite possible that he has an explosive device, nobody go near him, nobody touch him, he could blow himself up here on all of us.'"

Horowitz added that "as far as we're concerned, until there's an order to return to routine the incident is not over. There's no lack of incidents in Hebron that develop [in such a way]," he said, adding: "If I had been at the proper angle and had identified the movements, I'm certain that I would have been the one to fire at him. Because I wasn't in that location I didn't shoot, although I had a gun handy and a bullet in the barrel."

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On Monday, Azaria's former platoon commander, who was also involved in the incident, testified. He said, "The moment I arrived I saw no real fear that a device would be detonated, but I realized that he constituted a threat and therefore I put a fighter in charge of him. When I identified the terrorist he moved slightly, and I saw no reason to take more exceptional steps. I told the soldier that if the terrorist made sudden moves or inserted his hands into his clothes, he could shoot."

During Monday's platoon commander's testimony, he added that due to political tensions arising in the aftermath of the shooting "There was fear of a rebellion as a result of the incident, due to the soldiers' anger."

A jacket on a hot day

On Tuesday, Horowitz said that he heard the shooting while the wounded were being evacuated. "I asked one of the guys what happened here, and then was told that one of the soldiers had eliminated the terrorist, who was still moving. I also want to stress that the terrorist himself was not dressed in accordance with weather conditions that day. That was a day when there were warnings in the media that a heavy heat wave was expected, it was one of those days.

"I left the house in a short-sleeved shirt. The terrorist who was still alive was dressed in a very suspicious manner, with a heavy, closed jacket, which constitutes a very strong suspicion that that terrorist, in addition to wanting to stab, could have had an explosive belt, a device, a weapon or anything else under his clothes."

Scene from a video released on March 24, 2016 by B'Tselem showing IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria aiming his weapon before shooting in the head and killing a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron.Credit: AFP

Azaria's defense attorney, Eyal Besserglick, asked Horowitz to relate to the meteorological opinion submitted to the court by the prosecution - that at the time of the incident the temperature in Hebron was 17 degrees centigrade. "I'm here in the courtroom and it's 16 degrees and I'm not wearing a jacket," he said.

Court President Judge Col. Maya Heller remarked: "It's not really 16 degrees. When the courtroom is full it's more like 56 degrees." Horowitz insisted that the terrorist's clothing was unusual for the weather that day. "It was hot. Period," he said.

On Monday, a police sapper told the court that any dead body of a Palestinian terrorist that has not been inspected by bomb experts could theoretically be rigged with explosives.

In his report after the event, the sapper wrote that the terrorists involved in the incident were wearing clothing appropriate for the weather.

That comment was relevant in light of the testimony last week by another witness, Eliyahu Liebman – the security officer for the Jewish community in Hebron – to the effect that Sharif had been wearing a black jacket, which was unusual for the warm weather. Liebman said the jacket had looked inflated, “in such a way that anyone who has a little experience with the security reality would have a grave fear that the jacket was not filled with an air pocket, but rather an explosive or bomb.”

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