Israelis Want Elor Azaria to be Pardoned After Manslaughter Conviction
Earlier this month Israeli authorities convicted 20-year-old Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldier Elor Azaria of manslaughter over the killing of Palestinian Abdel Fattah al-Sharif. The January 4 ruling has since triggered an outpouring of nationwide support for Azaria, with an estimated 70 percent of Israelis asking for a full pardon.
The incident began last March when al-Sharif stabbed an Israeli soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron. After al-Sharif was shot and neutralized, cellphone footage showing Azaria shooting the incapacitated assailant in the head went viral. Originally Azaria was going to be tried for murder, but his charges were reduced to manslaughter for violating protocol, essentially shooting at a non-perceived threat.
While the decision to press charges against Azaria may indicate that Israel is holding its soldiers accountable after decades of contentious military engagement in Palestine, others consider Azaria to be innocent of any wrongdoing, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This past weekend, protests were held across Israel in support of Azaria. In Jerusalem one group assembled outside of President Reuven Rivlin’s home to demand the charges be dropped. Seven demonstrators were reportedly arrested after failing to follow police order and disrupting traffic. Following this event, two individuals were also arrested for ¨inciting violence¨ over social media against court officials in Azaria’s case.
Among Azaria’s supporters, some believe that the manslaughter charges could set a poor precedent for future military operations. For example, on January 8 a deadly truck attack occurred in Jerusalem when an Arab-Israeli citizen ran over a group of soldiers, killing four and injuring 15. Until service members realized that this wasn’t merely a car accident (made apparent when the truck went into reverse) the Jerusalem Post reports that some soldiers hesitated to fire knowing they could face similar charges as Azaria.
There are also some speculations that the Israeli army originally wanted to ignore the Azaria trial altogether to avoid ¨airing the military’s dirty secrets¨ to the world. According to Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Palestinian member of Israeli Parliament, Israel is particularly concerned about attracting more attention from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its inquiries into war crimes.
“In a clear-cut case like this, it is important for Israel to look as though it is taking war crimes seriously, otherwise the ICC might itself decide to investigate,” said Touma-Suleiman. “But the case has caused problems because it has upset right-wing politicians and much of the Israeli public, who expect absolute impunity for soldiers.”
This is the first high-profile manslaughter indictment since 2005 when Taysir Heib killed a British photographer and pro-Palestinian rights activist, Tom Hurndall. Oftentimes cases involving military wrongdoings against Palestinians are simply dropped. According to MPCID (Investigations into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Palestinians Convictions and Sentencing) 120 out of 186 investigations into Israeli soldiers committing crimes against Palestinians were closed and only seven prompted disciplinary action.
Based on this lack of accountability for Palestinian lives, some Palestinian advocates consider the incriminating evidence caught on video to be the only reason Israeli officials are even pushing charges.
“The only difference between this case and others is this was caught on camera,” said Palestinian Knesset member Hanin Zoabi. “Hundreds of Palestinians are murdered every year and nobody pays attention to it, and only because this was on camera did it go viral in the media here and internationally and made big news — but really it is something that happens every single day.”
Azaria could face up to 20 years in prison, which is the maximum sentence for manslaughter charges.