Israeli soldier Elior Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting an already-subdued terrorist in a case that has deeply divided Israel, arrives for a sentence hearing at the military court in Tel Aviv January 24, 2017. (Photo: DEBBIE HILL/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli Appeals Court Upholds Manslaughter Conviction For Israeli Soldier Who Fatally Shot Palestinian

Israeli Officials Appeal For Pardon

An Israeli appeals court upheld a manslaughter conviction and 18-month sentence for an Israeli soldier who was convicted of shooting and killing a Palestinian who had previously been neutralized in a case that has divided and riveted the Israeli public.

“It is unfortunate that such an excelling soldier committed such a terrible error,” the court wrote in its judgement. “He (Elor Azaria) decided to question the character of nearly everyone who questioned his character and never expressed remorse or questioned his actions.”

Azaria was convicted of shooting Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the West Bank city of Hebron last year. Al-Sharif stabbed an Israeli soldier, was shot, wounded and neutralized. About ten minutes later, in an incident recorded on video, Azaria walked up to al-Sharif and shot him in the head as he lay wounded.

In a statement, the family of Azaria’s victim, Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, said that “we were certain Elor Azaria would be exonerated” by the appeals court.

The family said it “opposes all forms of violence, by Palestinians and Israelis alike,” Channel 2 television reported.

Both the prosecution and defense had turned to the military appeals court, with the prosecution arguing the sentence was too lenient, and Elazar saying he should be freed immediately. While the court read the ruling, several of Azaria’s friends and family wore black shirts in protest. Azaria’s mother yelled out, “But he was a terrorist,” referring to al-Sharif, and was scolded by the judge.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called for Israeli Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot to pardon Azaria.

“My opinion has not changed on the question of granting a pardon to Elor Azaria, as I expressed it after the [January] conviction. When the subject comes up [in the context of pardon deliberations], I will offer my recommendation for a pardon to the relevant authorities,” Netanyahu tweeted.

Many of those in Netanyahu’s government, including Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, echoed calls for a pardon.

But others said that the verdict was a victory for Israeli democracy and a warning to Israeli soldiers against excessive use of force.

“Upholding the conviction of a soldier convicted of fatally shooting a man who posed no threat sends an important message about restrictions on lethal use of force,” Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine advocacy director at Human Rights Watch told The Media Line. “Yet Azaria’s argument – that the Israeli military routinely fails to prosecute similar cases of unlawful use of lethal force – should be a warning call to Israeli officials, some of whom continue to publicly advocate a shoot to kill policy.  Israeli security forces should make sweeping changes in their instruction, training and investigations after the fact, to deter the next soldier or police officer from using lethal force without justification.”

The ruling comes after two weeks of Israeli-Palestinian tensions surrounding Israel’s introduction of metal detectors to the Jerusalem holy site that Jews call the Temple Mount, and Palestinians call the Haram al-Sharif. The metal detectors were put in place after three Arab citizens of Israel killed two Druze policemen in the Old City using weapons they had smuggled onto the site. After days of angry demonstrations Israel removed the metal detectors and the situation returned to the status quo.

The ruling also comes just two weeks after a Palestinian terrorist infiltrated a Jewish settlement and stabbed to death three Israelis who were having a Shabbat dinner, before he was shot and wounded by an off-duty soldier.

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