Sergeant Elor Azaria gets a light sentence. The prosecutor had requested three to five years but could have asked up to 20 years. The hearing was held at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv amid tight security with right-wing militants protesting outside. For Israeli peace activist, outside influence and a toxic atmosphere possibly swayed the decisions.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – An Israeli military court this morning handed down an 18-month prison sentence on an Israeli soldier convicted in the killing a Palestinian attacker lying on the ground helpless.
Dozens of right-wing protesters protested outside the Tel Aviv Defence Ministry headquarters, where the hearing took place.
The offence carries a maximum sentence of 20 years but the prosecution had asked that Army Sergeant Elor Azaria, 20, be jailed for between three and five years.
The case of the young soldier who shot in cold blood 21-year old Palestinian Abdul Fatah al-Sharif during an attack on Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Hebron continues to stoke passions, debate and protest in the country.
The sentence comes after a trial that began in May that deeply split public opinion over Azaria’s guilt.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would support any decision to pardon Azaria.
By contrast, a spokesman for the Palestinian government, Tarek Rishmawi, said that the Palestinian government views the light sentence as a "green light to the occupation army to continue its crimes”.
Speaking to AsiaNews Anat Ben Nun, director of Development and External Relations of Peace Now, a leading anti-occupation Israeli NGO, said that "the sentence is relatively light" compared to the manslaughter conviction.
"It may be that the court’s decision was influenced by a toxic political atmosphere and political pressures from the right," she said.
For her, it is not yet clear whether the ruling will increase the anger of the Palestinian population, but "added to recent announcements of more settlements and the demolition of Palestinian homes, it is clear that we are going towards an explosive situation."
The basic problem is the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "In the last decade, things have not changed much,” Ben Nun explained. “The number of settlers has risen, but the goal of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state is still possible. What is more, the majority of public opinion (in Israel and Palestine) still support the two-state solution. "
Sergeant Elor Azaria’s case goes back to 24 March 2016 and underscores the country’s deep split, not only over his guilt, but also over policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians and security.
The soldier shot the young Palestinian, who had previously attacked other soldiers with a knife, wounding them.
Wounded, the Palestinian was already lying on the ground, unable to harm anyone. Nevertheless, Azaria pointed his gun and fired, killing him instantly.
Video footage shot by a Palestinian and made public by B'Tselem shows the Israeli soldier shooting the Palestinian militant point blank without the latter moving or baiting his killer.
Shortly before the shot, some soldiers are heard shouting in Hebrew, "the dog is still alive", followed by a shot, and Azaria saying “he deserves to die".
The incident is part of a wave of violence that broke out in October 2015, triggered by a series of provocations by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who tried to pray on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the holy place not only for the Palestinians, but for all Muslims.
Since then, incidents and clashes have occurred in Israel and the Palestinian territories in what has been dubbed the “knife intifada”. (DS)