Hebron Shooter’s Lies Are Enough to Destroy His Defense, Says IDF Prosecution

Elor Azaria had five morphing versions: His first was probably the truth, say prosecutors – he shot the subdued terrorist for revenge.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Soldier Elor Azaria attends his trial at the Jaffa Military Court, Israel, August 28, 2016.
Soldier Elor Azaria attends his trial at the Jaffa Military Court, Israel, August 28, 2016.Credit: Nir Keidar
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

There is proof that the so-called Hebron shooter lied in his testimony to the court, said the military prosecution in its summary of the manslaughter case delivered on Monday morning. The court has no choice but to conclude that the real reason Sgt. Elor Azaria shot the subdued terrorist to death was not that Abdel Fattah al-Sharif actually posed an immediate danger. It was that he had stabbed Azaria’s friend, and therefore in Azaria’s mind, he deserved to die.

The military prosecution on Monday wrapped up its case against Azaria, who stands accused of shooting a subdued terrorist to death in Hebron in March. There is proof that Azaria lied, claimed the prosecution at the end of the evidentiary phase of the trial.

The prosecution begins its 145-page concluding document with a moment of drama: “One shot the defendant fired on the morning of March 4, 2016 jolted a whole nation,” and led to more than one heated controversy. But however important the public debate may be, its place is not the courthouse, the prosecution wrote.

The prosecution then goes on to say that Azaria had lied time and again when talking with the Military Police and then the court itself: He changed versions five times, the prosecution counts.

First Azaria said right after the event, talking with a fellow soldier, T., that Sharif “deserved to die.” He said the same in answer to the question of Kfir Brigade company commander Maj. Tom Naaman, as to why he had taken the shot that killed Sharif.

Later, talking in the field with the battalion commander, Lieut. Col. David Shapira, and on phone with a paramedic, Azaria claimed he had been afraid that Sharif had a knife on him.

Version three was a twist on that one, following Azaria’s consultation with a lawyer: He said he feared the assailant still had a knife or bomb on his person. He said the same thing to the Military Police later that day.

The fourth version, says the prosecution, arrived in July, four months after the event, ahead of Azaria testifying in court. In a document submitted to court, Azaria wrote that he had told his two commanders, Naaman and Shapira, about the danger of a knife or explosive device, and added that Shapira had slapped him. Testifying before the court, Azaria also added a new bit of information: that he had told the attending paramedic and another soldier serving with him in the unit about the slap.

“This isn’t just a defendant who changed his version over time no less than five times,” the prosecution writes in its conclusions. “This is a defendant who changed his version to try to cover his changes of version. The defendant’s final version tries to claim that from the first moment after the shooting, he claimed there was danger from a knife or explosive. This version collides head-on with all the other witnesses.”

Azaria himself understands that his morphing versions impair his credibility, says the prosecution. He didn’t try to blame his changing story on stress, anxiety or confusion, it writes – on the contrary, he claims that he knowingly, “immediately after the event, explained to his commanders and to the paramedic about the two dangers, the danger of the knife and the danger of the explosive.”

Yet none of those testifying in court – from the paramedic to the two commanders – said Azaria had told them about the danger that Sharif had a bomb concealed on his body, says the prosecution.

“Our conclusion is that the defendant is trying on versions, taking them off, contradicting his own versions and colliding frontally with the stories of all the other witnesses,” the prosecutors Lt. Col. (Res.) Nadav Weisman and Teah Shalit wrote. “The conclusion is that in real time, on the ground, immediately after the shooting, when the defendant was asked to explain his actions, he told the truth; and the truth is that he shot [Sharif] because he thought the terrorist deserved to die because he had stabbed his friend.”

Only later, realizing the gravity of his actions, did Azaria try to justify them, they wrote.

“The illegality of the shooting screams from afar, a scream that cannot be stifled If the defendant had shot in good faith, in a situation of genuine danger, with intent of quashing the danger, the army and law would have stood by his side,” they wrote.

In fact Azaria fired the shot with criminal intent, they say, as a “reaction to the past deeds of the terrorist, not to remove a future danger, and he said so openly. The defendant did not act like Israel Defense Forces soldiers and others who deal with the threats of the time, over time, firmly and morally, based on orders.” His actions deviated from the norm and were not based on the military code, the prosecutors added.

Azaria’s claim that the subdued terrorist constituted clear and immediate danger doesn’t bear out, they say: “There is no precedent in Israeli law for recognizing a man lying on the ground for long minutes, as the terrorist was lying in this case, as a person committing an assault to the degree that immediate use of deadly force is necessary to deflect him.”

Regarding witnesses in Azaria’s defense such as reserve general Uzi Dayan, who said that terrorists should be killed, the prosecution said that such sentiments should be condemned on the grounds of being illegal, against the Israeli army’s values and because they could lead Israeli soldiers to do bad things. “A terrorist is an enemy that, by law, should be fought with all force and determination while he is active and a danger to our forces,” the prosecution wrote – but that does not mean that all terrorists should be killed unreservedly.

For instance, Israeli soldiers should not shoot terrorists who surrendered, were disarmed, are in handcuffs or in jail. “Israeli soldiers maintain purity of arms,” writes the prosecution, “and arms should only be used when necessary, while maintaining humanity.”

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