The United Nations’ human rights office decried on Friday the 18-month sentence handed down by a Tel Aviv military court to an Israeli soldier for killing a badly wounded Palestinian as “excessively lenient” and “unacceptable”.
The soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, was sentenced for manslaughter in the March shooting of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head after he was incapacitated following a knife attack in March 2016 in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron. Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank and a frequent flashpoint for violence.
The show of leniency provoked Palestinian outrage.
“We are deeply disturbed at the lenient sentence given by the Tel Aviv Military Court earlier this week to an Israeli soldier convicted of unlawfully killing a wounded Palestinian in an apparent extrajudicial execution of an unarmed man who clearly posed no imminent threat,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing in Geneva.
Manslaughter carries a maximum punishment of 20 years under Israeli law, she said.
“This case risks undermining confidence in the justice system and reinforcing the culture of impunity,” Shamdasani said. “This is a chronic culture of impunity we are talking about.”
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces since the most recent upsurge in violence began in the West Bank in September 2015, she said.
Azaria is the only member of the Israeli security forces to have been brought to trial for such a killing, she added.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to address the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday at the start of its main annual session that lasts until March 24.
Israel, backed by its main ally the United States, says that the 47-member state forum is biased against it due to its frequent resolutions condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and practices in the Gaza Strip.
In the meantime, Israel has denied a work permit to a Human Rights Watch researcher after receiving Foreign Ministry advice that HRW works “in the service of Palestinian propaganda under the false banner of human rights,” the immigration authority said.
HRW said the move was unexpected, since the organization regularly meets and corresponds with Israeli government officials, including representatives of the military, the police, and the Foreign Ministry.
Israel’s decision was criticized by the U.S. State Department, which said, “we strongly disagree with that characterization of HRW … (which is) a credible human rights organization.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the decision was taken because of HRW’s “extreme, hostile anti-Israel agenda which was working at the service of Palestinian propaganda … in a totally biased manner.”
The group said in a statement that “the decision marks an ominous turn after nearly three decades during which Human Rights Watch staff has had regular access without impediments to Israel and the West Bank.”
It added that Israel has refused HRW access to Gaza since 2010, except for one visit in 2016.
Acting U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that “even though we do not agree with all of their assertions or conclusions, given the seriousness of their efforts, we support the importance of the work they do. We reference HRW reports in our own reporting, including our annual human rights reports.”
HRW’s Iain Levine said that it was “disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda.”
The decision to bar the HRW representative is a latest move by authorities to curb foreign non-governmental organizations who have issued reports critical of Israeli government actions, particularly concerning Palestinians.
It was initially unclear whether the decision heralded the start of a new policy by Israel towards foreign citizens working for NGOs.