A military court on Sunday denied both Sgt. Elor Azaria’s appeal against his conviction of killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant last year in Hebron and the prosecution’s appeal seeking a harsher sentence. Azaria will serve his original sentence of 18 months in prison, the court ruled, following which two ministers and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the chief of staff to pardon him. Indeed, the fastest way to theoretically reduce his time behind bars would be to plead for a pardon, and under the rules, Azaria has 30 days to file the request. The chief of staff would have a month to answer after consulting with the military prosecution.
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The position of the military prosecution is considered crucial to the chief of staff’s decision. A source in the prosecution says he can’t remember a case in recent years in which the chief of staff bucked the prosecution’s opinion: if it opposes the pardon, that is that.
Most requests for pardon are based on the offending soldier’s personal situation: illness, either personal or in their family, or some other humanitarian cause.
Military law enables the chief of staff and central commanders to reduce a soldier’s sentence handed down by a military court. Since the appellate court upheld the lower court in Azaria's case, only the chief of staff himself, Gadi Eisenkot, would have the power in this case, which could only be applied to the soldier's benefit. He could shorten Azaria’s sentence or even replace it with probation. He cannot, however, impose a harsher punishment than that set by the military tribunal.
Sources in the military prosecution, including in senior positions, concur that it is highly unusual for the top brass to intervene, however.
In 2012, Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, head of the human resources corps, granted clemency to Israeli expat Yana Gorelik, who left Israel shortly before the draft without arranging for release. Upon her return, she was arrested for being AWOL. In a plea bargain she agreed to three months in prison and ultimately served 45 days.
The chief of staff most known for clemency was Rafael Eitan, including towards soldiers who had been found guilty of crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese citizens. For example, he granted clemency to Daniel Pinto, who was convicted of murdering four Lebanese citizens during the Litani campaign in 1978.