Although it has not been in the news of late, the trial of IDF soldier Elior Azaria is still going on, and he is still confined to base. As the trial wraps up, Channel Two said that it had obtained the testimony of three top security officials – all of whom say that the army is “exaggerating” in its response to Azaria’s actions.
The three, IDF Generals Uzi Dayan, Uzi Bitton and Colonel Shmuel Zakai, said that Azaria acted in a “reasonable” manner when he shot an Arab terrorist who was lying on the ground. “The fact that the terrorist was moving and could have set off a bomb, along with the fact that there were two terrorists in the area, provides a reasonable case for Azaria to have opened fire,” said Zakai in his testimony. “The decision to neutralize the terrorist in this manner was a professional one.”
Azaria is the soldier who shot at a terrorist in Chevron on Purim morning when he was neutralized and on the ground, after having been shot when he tried to stab soldiers. He is being tried on charges of manslaughter and conduct unbecoming an IDF soldier.
Evidence on the culpability of the soldier has been mixed, with footage and testimony surfacing that either indicate that the soldier was justified in his claimed fears that the terrorist, who was still alive, could have set off a bomb he may have been carrying on his person, or that he was completely immobilized and “deserved to die,” as some witnesses have claimed that the soldier said. This is the first time in a decade that a soldier has been so charged, IDF officials said.
In his testimony, Zakai slammed then-Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who publicly condemned Azaria before he was even charged. “Could the soldier have known he would go on trial and that he would be the target of innuendo by the Defense Minister? This is shocking to me. Such statements guarantee that the soldier will not be able to get a fair trial.”
Dayan and Bitton said similar things in their written professional evaluation, presented by the defense in court. “The conduct of the investigation was problematic,” Dayan wrote. “The internal affairs investigative division of the IDF should not be involved in evaluating military incidents. They do not have the skills to handle a situation like this. I would recommend that the court ignore all comments made by this team, as well as all the public debate that has been ongoing.”
According to Bitton, “Azaria’s commander panicked after the incident. An incorrect decision in this case will lead to a situation where no soldier will open fire to save the lives of others.”