An Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter, after he shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant, was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment and demoted to the rank of Private yesterday.
The sentence was passed by a military court in Tel Aviv, following Elor Azaria’s conviction in January. The presiding judge, Col. Maya Heller said that “the defendant shot a terrorist without any justification” and that Azaria “also defiled the purity of arms which is upheld by the IDF”.
However, she explained “a number of mitigating circumstances that required consideration, including a complicated area where terrorists attempted to kill soldiers and even managed to injure one”. The judges also noted that the case was Azaria’s “first encounter with the legal authorities” and that he had enjoyed an otherwise “outstanding military service”.
The 18-month sentence is significantly less than the three to five-year sentence the prosecution had requested, although he was given a further 12-month suspended sentence.
Azaria will begin his sentence on 5 March. His defence team have 15 days in which to launch an appeal, which they are expected to do. If the sentence is upheld, Azaria could request a pardon from President Reuven Rivlin.
Azaria shot dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant who had stabbed a soldier, in the West Bank city of Hebron last March. The shooting was caught on camera. The case sparked intense and often bitter public debate during its proceedings and has continued to stir strong emotions and divide opinion.
In response to the sentence, Jewish Home leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett called for Azaria’s “immediate pardon,” saying that “the process was tainted from its foundation”.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman commented that “even those who don’t like the verdict or the sentence are bound to respect the court”.
Opposition leader, Zionist Union chair Isaac Herzog called Azaria “the victim of impossible political circumstances”.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said that Azaria had made a serious mistake, but that in terms of a pardon “the ones who must decide this are the commanders. The politicians must stop weighing in on what happens in the army”.