An Israeli military appeals court on Sunday upheld the guilty verdict of a soldier sentenced in February for fatally shooting an incapacitated Palestinian assailant. The high-profile manslaughter case sharply divided the country.
A lower military court previously sentenced Elor Azaria to 18 months in military prison and demoted him from sergeant to private for killing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif. Sharif, 21, was one of two men accused of stabbing another Israeli soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron in March 2016.
Charges were brought against Azaria after video emerged that shows him shooting Sharif in the head as he lay on the ground, injured and already subdued. The second suspect, 21-year-old Ramzi Qasrawi Tamimi, had already been shot dead.
The video, provided by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, shows a small crowd of Israeli soldiers and medics standing around a Palestinian man lying on the ground.
“An Israeli soldier can be seen shooting the injured al-Sharif,” B’Tselem said in a statement released with the video in March 2016.
“The incident happens in the plain view of many other soldiers and officers, who do not seem to take any notice. The soldiers and medical teams are seen in the video treating the lightly injured soldier while ignoring the two seriously injured youths.”
One of B’Tselem’s field researchers, Emad abu-Shamsiyah, recorded the video, which spread quickly on social media. The short clip sharply divided Israeli society between those who supported the soldier and those who supported the army — a dangerous ideological struggle for a country where most youth must serve for a period in the military.
Azaria’s supporters hailed him as a hero, demanding his release and pardon. During the verdict and sentencing, his supporters rallied outside the Ministry of Defense where the trail was held.
But the military’s leadership, backed by Azaria’s critics, condemned the shooting. The military acted swiftly to investigate the incident. Then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said at the time that the shooting was against the values of the Israeli military.
“It is forbidden for a person, even when his blood is boiling, to lose his head and self-control. This incident will be dealt with in the most serious way. We have to know how to win and remain humane,” Ya’alon said.
Dr. Jawad al-Awad, Palestinian Minister of Health, responded by calling the shooting a “war crime” and urged the international community to protect Palestinians.
“This is very clear evidence that Israeli soldiers are committing field executions documented by cameras against Palestinian civilians,” said al-Awad.
In court, Azaria claimed he shot Sharif because he felt the suspect, although wounded, still posed a significant threat. Azaria said he believed Sharif was wearing an explosive vest.
Prosecutors said Azaria’s actions following the shooting did not support that claim, as he did not warn other soldiers about an explosive vest.
On Sunday, the judges rejected Azaria’s appeal, saying the soldier’s version of events was not credible.
The prosecution’s appeal for a harsher sentence was also rejected.
Azaria has until September 8 to appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.