Soldier fatally shot Palestinian assailant who was wounded and detained.
The trial for an Israeli soldier who fatally shot a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron as he was detained and lying on the ground officially began Monday, highlighting a rare case within the Israeli justice system focusing on allegations of excessive use of force in confronting Palestinian attackers.
Sergeant Elor Azaria, a 19-year-old conscript medic, is being charged with manslaughter after an autopsy showed his bullet was directly responsible for killing already-wounded Abdel Fattah al-Sharif.
The case has drawn international attention and spurred controversy within Israeli society as Azaria is the first active duty Israeli soldier to face criminal proceedings as it pertains to the rules of engagement surrounding the use of lethal force.
The shooting originally occurred on March 24th and was captured on video later released by the Israeli news source, Haaretz:
On Monday morning, Azaria’s lawyer began the trial saying that his client was unfairly being singled out for prosecution, alleging that in the past a case of this nature would have been dealt internally with disciplinary hearings instead of criminal charges. The prosecution swiftly rejected these claims saying that the defense asked for information and citations on comparable cases, but none were found.
The case has deeply divided the Israeli public, with some seeing the events as a clear act of reckless homicide but many others believing in the hawkish need for self-defense.
A poll conducted in early April following the original footage found that 82% of Israelis believed Azaria was justified in his actions. Since that time, new public opinion research has been conducted showing 57% believing that the defendant should never have been arrested, with one prominent member of the notoriously conservative Likud Party going so far as to say “a soldier cannot be tried for killing a terrorist.’
Palestinians have long accused Israeli Defense Forces of using excessive forces against attackers who have already been wounded and/or securely apprehended, in many cases killing civilians when they no longer posed a direct threat to anybody in sight. Activists have released amateur videos shot capturing these events, but none more grisly than the Hebron shooting.
“The truth will come out. The path will be long. We will endure,” said Azaria’s defense lawyer Binyamin Malka, who added that his client acted appropriately and is seeking full acquittal.
Since October, Palestinian attacks have killed 28 Israelis and two visiting U.S. citizens, while Israeli forces have killed at least 194 Palestinians, at least 133 of whom Israeli has said were assailants.