An Israeli soldier went on trial before a military court on Monday, indicted for murder after he was caught on video fatally firing on a wounded Palestinian attacker in the West Bank two months ago.
The hearings opened Monday before the military court in the coastal city of Jaffa where Sgt. Elor Azaria sat in the defendant’s bench as his mother wrapped her arms around him to comfort him.
In their indictment, prosecutors said Sgt Azaria “violated the rules of engagement without operational justification as the terrorist was lying on the ground wounded and represented no immediate threat for the accused or others who were presentز”
The unusual case of an active serviceman being charged has created a rift in Israel, with defense officials condemning the soldier’s conduct and large parts of the Israeli public rallying behind him.
According to the Israeli military, two Palestinians had been shot and killed at the time of the March incident after they carried out a stabbing attack that wounded an Israeli soldier. But a video released later by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem showed one of the attackers still alive after the initial shooting and Azaria firing at his head. An autopsy determined the shot to the head was the cause of death.
Sgt Azaria told Israeli military police: “When I looked at him I saw that he was moving his head, and his hand was within reach of the knife he used in the stabbing – the black knife. He moved his hand towards the knife.”
However, army investigators said that before he opened fire, Sgt Azaria had told a comrade that the wounded man “deserved to die” for stabbing his friend.
Also, the video of the incident showed that the knife mentioned by Sgt Azaria in his police statement was at least 1m away from the wounded attacker.
This incident came amidst a wave of attacks by Palestinians against Israeli occupation. Such attacks have killed and wounded scores of Israeli security forces and civilians.
“The truth will come out. The path will be long. We will endure,” said Binyamin Malka, a defense lawyer for Azaria. The soldier’s defense team has claimed that he acted as expected from a combat soldier and that the defense would seek a full acquittal.
Palestinians have accused Israel of using excessive force against attackers who have already been stopped or wounded, and in some cases, of killing innocent civilians.
Several videos have been released backing the Palestinian statements, but the Hebron shooting is perhaps the strongest evidence of Israeli unlawful activity so far.
Also Monday, a Jewish settler group said it took over a multistory building in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
It was the latest move by nationalist Jews to get hold of properties in Arab areas of Jerusalem to make certain the area remains in Israeli hands under any future peace deal with the Palestinians. Some 1,000 Jews have moved into Arab areas of the Old City since the 1980s.
Up to that time, about four Palestinian families lived in the building that was taken over Monday, said Daniel Luria of the Ateret Cohanim settler group. He said three or four Jewish families, along with religious studies students, will move into the building after renovations.
Luria said the property was purchased legally by an investor whom he would not identify.
Israel captured the Old City along with east Jerusalem in the 1967 war, and later annexed the territory, but Palestinians claim east Jerusalem for the capital of their hoped-for state.