Police were out in large numbers Tuesday morning, preparing to meet the large crowds expected to gather outside Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, as a final sentencing decision in the case of IDF soldier Elor Azaria is set to be handed down Tuesday afternoon. Hundreds of demonstrators are expected, and police believe that unrest is possible if the soldier’s sentence is deemed to be too harsh by the crowd.
Azaria last month was convicted for shooting at a terrorist in Chevron last Purim when he was neutralized and on the ground, after he had been shot when he tried to stab soldiers. Azaria was charged for manslaughter and conduct unbecoming an IDF soldier. Evidence on the culpability of the soldier was 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.
The decision on whether or not to sentence Azaria to prison is up to the military tribunal that has been dealing with the case for the past six months. Prosecutors have reportedly asked for a sentence of between three and five years in prison, with no credit for time already served over the last half year, when Azaria has been confined to base. Defense attorneys have asked that the soldier not be sentenced at all, or at the maximum to a sentence of one year, with credit for time served.
Politicians on the right and the left called for Azaria to be pardoned. Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett said that “Elor killed a terrorist whose purpose was to murder soldiers. This should never have even been an issue for a criminal case. I expect the Defense Minister to immediately, today, pardon Elor in order to give IDF soldiers the backing they need to do their job.”
Former MK Sharon Gal, who has been a supporter of the family from the beginning, said that “the court stuck a knife in the back of a top soldier. We will appeal, but he should be pardoned immediately.”
Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri said that “the court has done its job, and we will respect its decision. From this point on, the proper path would be to pardon him. The trial was enough suffering for this soldier.”
Zionist Camp MK Shelly Yechimovich also called for Azaria to be pardoned, saying that “the decision in this case was necessary, but we must consider a pardon for the soldier, given the social implications and divisions this decision has the potential to cause.”
In the event that Azaria is sentenced to a harsh punishment, MK Oren Chazan (Likud) said Tuesday that he would immediately propose legislation to pardon the solder. Speaking on Radio 103, Chazan said that “I see standing by an IDF soldier as a supreme value. As far as I am concerned, he did not make any mistake. All terrorists need to be eliminated in the same manner. The man that Azaria killed is far from being a ‘righteous among the nations.’” If any punishment was justified, it needed to be imposed outside of a jail sentence, perhaps doing public service, said Chazan, adding that “Azaria eliminated a terrorist who moments earlier stabbed and injured an IDF soldier.”