Shooting the immobilized terrorist in Hebron was unwarranted, the former commander of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier on trial for allegedly doing just that in March, told the court on Wednesday morning.
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Col. Yariv Ben-Ezra, the outgoing commander of the Hebron Brigade, testified Wednesday morning in the military tribunal in Jaffa presiding over the case against Azaria, who is accused of killing an injured Palestinian terrorist lying on the ground on March 24.
Ben-Ezra, the highest-ranking officer to testify in the case so far, told the tribunal that the IDF security coordinator told him "that after the primary event had ended, there was a shooting for reasons that were not clear. At this stage we end the conversation and I call in the battalion commander and tell him to check what had been described. The battalion commander gets back to me after a minute and a half and says that the event in question was very serious."
Next, the battalion commander came to see Ben-Ezra together with the company commander, the officer told the court. "At this stage they explained to me, after I asked what the explanation behind the event was, that it was not clear. They tell me that the soldier said, to the best of my memory, that 'Terrorists should be killed.' I understand something irregular happened and update the division commander."
Responding to a question from the prosectuion, Ben-Ezra said he saw no operational justification in Azaria shooting the Palestinian. That seemed apparent from the beginning, he said, "and the more information was added that day, I understood that the shooting had not been justified. Since the shooting took place in a situation where life was not in danger, and the more I watched the video clip later, I understood that better." Based on the behavior of people at the event, the discourse, and following investigations, Ben-Ezra said again that the assailant posed no danger at that stage.
Asked if he had heard Azaria's claim that he shot the Palestinian because the soldier feared he was bearing explosives, Ben-Ezra answered that he had not: "Throughout the first stage, I heard no such claim about any such thing. The first time I heard of that suspicion was at noon, through the media, when the event was publicized. Not on my way to the site, not at the site – the subject of fear of a bomb never came up."
Regarding Azaria's claims, Ben-Ezra said that a lot of claims are being bandied about, and maybe they're true. But then he added that after seeing the video, "I see no connection between the claims and the operational situation in the field, and therefore, I see no justification for the shooting."
The day before the shooting, Ben-Ezra had written a report stating that in "the last two weeks, there were two cases where the Magen David Adom was unwilling to take care of wounded Palestinians. It bears noting that the priority is first to take care of the settler/soldier and then the Palestinian, but it is their duty to provide first aid for all. It needs to be understood that this element directly influences the operational situation."
At the time, Ben-Ezra wrote, there were quite a few incidents involving injured Palestinians. "There was the event at barrier 160, also part of defending the Jewish settlement in Hebron, of the terrorist woman who came to stab and was wounded moderately by being shot in the leg, but it took time until medical care was provided. A Magen David ambulance showed up but refused to take her until a sapper could check the area." The event was filmed and photographed from every angle, resulting in serious incitement against Israelis the following day, Ben-Ezra explained, adding that finally, the first people to treat the terrorist were army medics.
Tuesday was Ben-Ezra's last day on the job as commander of the Hebron Brigade. He has been replaced by Col. Itzik Cohen.
Also on Tuesday, Azaria's father Charlie Azaria accused the army prosecutors of framing his son. "I have never seen such conduct," the father said. "It is corrupt. Liars. You're trying everything to frame him. This is a frame job, great God I trust the legal system and ask for a fair trial, but I don't feel this is a fair trial. Somebody is pulling the strings and the prosecution should climb down from their tree."
The prosecutor, Lieut. Col. Nadav Weissman, demanded the court censure the father's comments and conduct, saying a prosecutor could not be accused of anything worse than framing a suspect.