Hebron Shooting Witness Says Saw Soldier Cock Gun, 'But Didn't Think He Was Going to Shoot'

'I would have tried to stop him,' the soldier adds in dramatic testimony at a military tribunal, where Sgt. Elor Azariya is being tried for manslaughter for shooting a Palestinian attacker lying wounded on the ground.

Accused Hebron shooter Elor Azarya at the Jaffa military tribunal in July 2016.
Moti Milrod

A soldier to whom Sgt. Elor Azaria handed his helmet before shooting dead a wounded Palestinian in Hebron four months ago testified in military court on Monday that he saw Azariya cock his gun said he "didn't believe he was going to shoot."

 "If I had thought he was going to shoot, I would have tried to stop him," the soldier said.

Azaria is charged with manslaughter for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian assailant dead in Hebron on March 24. 

The soldier, a member of Azaria's battalion, remarked how "it isn't unusual for soldiers to cock their guns" in the line of duty, without necessarily intending to follow through.

The soldier, whose name is barred from publication, was asked whether Azaria expressed any regrets just after the shooting. "I did not hear him say he regretted it, but the look on his face was one of not knowing what to do, and he appeared stressed," the soldier replied.

"Elor said that they stabbed his friend and tried to kill him and therefore he deserved to die," he added.

The soldier corroborated the shooter's account that there were fears of a possible explosive going off in the area, just after the stabbing incident in which another soldier had been wounded, and a second assailant shot and killed at the scene.

The soldier's testimony however differed slightly from what he told Military Police after the incident when they asked him whether he thought that the prone Palestinian had posed any threat.

"I think he died because there are stories about terrorists carrying bombs," the soldier said earlier.

But in court on Monday, he told the court that he didn't think the Palestinian had posed any threat. "That's in retrospect," he added.

On Wednesday the court heard testimony from Col. Yariv Ben-Ezra, former commander of the Hebron Brigade, who denied allegations he had launched the investigation only after B’Tselem published video footage of the shooting.

Ben-Ezra said he hadn’t even seen the video when he decided to assign the case to the Military Police. Ben-Ezra also contradicted Azaria's line of defense that he opened fire becaue he feared the assailant had a bomb.

“To the best of my professional understanding, when you see the video — nobody felt his life was in danger,” Ben-Ezra said. “I’m more than convinced that if people thought their lives were in danger, things would have looked different.”

Therefore, he continued, “I don’t see any justification for the shooting.”

Ben-Ezra added that he first heard Azaria’s story about fearing a bomb from the media, several hours after the incident. He did not hear it from any of the soldiers at the scene, he said.

“On the day of the incident, Azaria’s battalion commander, Lt. Col. David Shapira, told me Azaria’s explanation was ‘terrorists should be killed,’” Ben-Ezra said.