Azaria’s Unit Commander: ‘Real Fear’ Chevron Terrorist Had a Bomb

Sgt. Elior Azaria, the Israeli soldier who shot a Palestinian terrorist in Chevron, seen after a military court hearing in Jaffa on Sunday, his first day of cross-examination. (Flash90)
Sgt. Elior Azaria, the IDF soldier who shot a Palestinian terrorist in Chevron, seen after a military court hearing in Jaffa. (Flash90)

In the second day of defense arguments in the trial of Elior Azaria, the soldier’s unit commander testified that soldiers in the unit were “very confused” in the wake of the shooting of the terrorist on Purim morning in Chevron. “There was a great deal of agitation,” said the officer, whose name was withheld from publication. “We told the soldiers not to touch the body of the terrorist until a bomb squad member arrived. We feared that he was carrying a bomb.”

The officer said that he had seen a knife next to the terrorist, and that he was afraid, as were the other soldiers, that the terrorist would get up, grab the knife, and go on a stabbing spree. He also testified that he had yelled out at soldiers to stay away from the terrorist because of the fear of a bomb. The terrorist had been wearing a heavy coat, and there was no way to know if he had a bomb or other device under the coat.

With his testimony, the officer contradicted several of his own commanders, who claimed that in their opinion there was no reason to suspect that the terrorist would blow himself up. However, they were not present at the scene, as he was.

Azaria is on trial for shooting 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 the soldier said. This is the first time in a decade that a soldier has been so charged, IDF officials said.

One soldier who testified for the defense Sunday said that after the incident, soldiers were subjected to a lecture about how “serious” the shooting was. The unit commander, asked about this, confirmed that all unit commanders had received orders from higher-ups to hold such discussions within hours of the incident – and before several soldiers who were to be called by internal affairs investigators were questioned.

The officer was asked if he did not realize that the lectures could have played a role in convincing Azaria’s fellow soldiers that he was indeed guilty – that they were being “brainwashed” – but the officer said that he had not thought of that at the time. He added that other lectures were given by higher-ranking officers in the days following the incident discussing its “seriousness.” The soldiers were also instructed not to speak publicly about the incident. In addition, he said, he was instructed by higher-ups to be on alert for an “uprising” by soldiers, but said he did not detect one.

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