Elor Azaria court-martial appeal underway in Tel Aviv

The appeal of Elor Azaria, who killed a seemingly neutralized Palestinian terrorist, claiming he feared the assailant was carrying a bomb, has begun.

The appeal of Pvt. Elor Azaria, who on January 4 was convicted of manslaughter for killing an apparently neutralized terrorist in Hebron on March 24 last year, got underway Sunday morning at the Defense Ministry compound, known as the Kirya in Tel Aviv. Azaria, 20, was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment and 12 months probation, as well as being demoted in rank. Shortly after the sentencing, IDF lawyers demanded a harsher sentence.

At the court-martial appeal, military judge Zvi Segal questioned why Azaria was appealing his conviction and relatively light jail sentence.

“None of the soldiers, officers or armed civilians at the scene, despite having felt danger, drew their weapon and shot the terrorist,” Segal told Azaria’s defense lawyer, Yoram Sheftel.

Judge Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avi Peled similarly asked Sheftel, “What I’m not hearing from you is why the appellant, unlike everyone else at the scene (at Tel Rumeida in Hebron), felt danger and opened fire?”

Sheftel argued that “in the (Ziad) Jilani case, only one police officer opened fire as well,” referring to a 2010 shooting incident in which a Border Policeman killed a Palestinian who rammed his car into a police position in eastern Jerusalem. The officer shot Jilani at close range while the latter was lying on the ground. Some six months later, the Police Investigation Unit closed the file, citing lack of sufficient evidence.

This wasn’t the first time Sheftel brought up the Jilani case. Previously, Segal reprimanded him, saying him that “in the Jilani case, the soldier acted according to the rules of engagement.”

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Segal also inquired whether “there is an explanation as to why Azaria handed his helmet over to his friend before shooting? After all, he was afraid (the terrorist carried) a bomb.”

“I don’t remember. He wasn’t asked about that,” Sheftel responded, adding, “Is anyone examining such nuances? Why is Azaria being picked on with nuances?”

To this, Segal responded, “You claim in your appeal that Azaria made a professional error and nothing more. I can’t find a single sentence in his testimony (to indicate that)… Azaria even explained in his testimony that everyone else was negligent, and he was right.”

Defense Attorney Claims Testimony ‘Fabricated’

Sheftel claimed that the testimony of Azaria’s company commander, Maj. Tom Na’aman, was fabricated to his client’s detriment.

He insisted Na’aman’s evidence “was fabricated in the most disgraceful manner possible. He did a 180 with his version. It’s a serious oversight that the previous defense attorneys didn’t question the company commander on that. The fact there was no cross-examination on the matter is not enough to remove all doubts from his intolerable testimony.”

Sheftel has made a career defending unpopular cases. He represented convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk.

Sheftel was not part of Azaria’s original defense team. He joined mid-trial, and remained the sole lawyer after Eyal Besserglick, Ilan Katz and Karmit Scheiber resigned over disagreements on whether to appeal the verdict.

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Since the fatal shooting in Hebron nearly a year and a half ago, Azaria has become a hero to many who, rather than viewing his shooting as a failure to follow IDF orders about the use of weapons, champion his actions as a resolute and appropriate response to terrorism. In Azaria’s words, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif – the knife-wielding Palestinian who wounded an IDF soldier – “deserved to die.”

By: Gil Zohar, World Israel News