Lawyers for Sgt. Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting of a neutralized terrorist in Chevron in March 2016, had a discouraging start in their appeal for dismissal of the charges on Wednesday, as judges in the military court refused almost all of their requests to consider additional evidence.
Azaria’s defense counsel sought to introduce evidence from 17 other cases involving terrorists shot and killed by security forces, which they contend showed that the IDF had singled out the defendant for prosecution when others had not been.
During the hearing, defense attorney Yoram Sheftel called for acquittal “on behalf of the millions” who believe in Azaria’s innocence. He said it was “extremely out of character” for the military court to bring Azaria to trial, considering that “far worse” cases were not prosecuted. Some of those killings were not of “murderous, jihadist fascistic terrorists, but of noncombatant Arab residents of Yehudah and Shomron.”
The judges rejected 16 of the 17 cases, saying that they were not comparable to the case at hand. Only that of a volunteer police officer who shot dead a Palestinian terrorist after a stabbing attack in Jaffa last year will be admitted as evidence in the appeal process, according to The Times of Israel.
Judge Col. Tzvi Segal, part of the five-member panel hearing the appeal, noted some of the differences between those cases and Azaria’s, where defendants had followed the rules of engagement, which Azaria did not, and where physical evidence of the alleged crime was lacking, whereas there is video footage in this case.
Chief prosecutor Nadav Weissman asserted that Azaria’s conduct was essentially different from the others:
“There is no case of a soldier — it could also be a police officer but we’re military prosecution — coming 11 minutes [after an attack] and shooting an incapacitated terrorist and then saying afterward that he did it because he was a terrorist who deserved to die,” Weissman said.
Sheftel disputed that point, saying that the IDF corporal who testified that Azaria told him the assailant deserved to die, gave his testimony under duress, while he was under arrest and accused of not preventing the shooting. He argued that the corporal could have been trying to “save his skin” by testifying against Azaria.
However, an IDF official told The Times of Israel outside the courtroom afterwards that the corporal was not under arrest at the time he gave his testimony.
Azaria was sentenced to 18 months in prison, a suspended term, and demotion to the rank of private.
Prosecution lawyers are also appealing, planning to argue that the sentence was too lenient, and should be increased to as much as five years.