Acclaimed by most of the population of Israel as a hero and celebrated as an exemplary soldier at a rally with thousands of participants last month in Tel Aviv, Sgt. Elor Azaria appeared Monday for his indictment before the military court in Jaffa. On March 24 in Hebron, Azaria killed in cold blood a Palestinian assailant, Abdel Fattah al Sharif, 21, who lay on the ground dying, unable to do any harm, after having stabbed and lightly wounded a soldier. Yet Azaria is being charged only with negligent homicide and improper behavior.
Military leaders expect the soldier will be found guilty, in order not to tarnish further, especially abroad, the image of an armed forces that has been already at the center of international investigation of war crimes several times in recent years (committed in Gaza). “It is an exceptionally serious incident,” the prosecutor said. “The soldier shot without any justification a terrorist who had already been neutralized, against the rules of engagement. He then changed versions, thus making his testimony not credible.”
On the contrary, the right-wing government in power wants the soldier acquitted, following the wave of public opinion. Too many Israelis — a survey conducted in March by Channel 2 reported that 57 percent of respondents said they opposed the very idea of trying Azaria — believe the sergeant “did the right thing” when faced with a “Palestinian terrorist threat.” On Monday one of his defense lawyers, Ilan Katz, actually accused the military leadership of trying to influence the court convict his client at all costs.