Azaria Makes First Public Statement

YERUSHALAYIM -

Former IDF soldier Elor Azaria who was convicted of manslaughter for killing a neutralized terrorist, thanked supporters and said he will go to jail with “head held high,” in his first public statement, Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Azaria took the advice of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked the day before and notified Chief of Staff Gabi Eizenkot that he will not be submitting an appeal to the High Court, and instead requested a reduced sentence from head of the IDF.

However, in a video taped at his parents’ home, Azaria spoke for himself, giving his own reasons for the decision.

“I believe I could still be found innocent [in a High Court appeal], but my family and I have suffered terribly for the past year and a half,” he said. “The ordeal cost my parents their health.”

“I promise you that I acted out of a sense of immediate danger at the scene of the attack. But the court gave its ruling, and we live in a nation of laws. So I’m going to serve the prison sentence handed down, in the hope that it will be reduced.”

Azaria, whose defense was based on his stated belief at the time of the incident that the terrorist, though lying on the ground, was still alive and posed a danger to those around him, explained:

“It’s important to me to emphasize: I grew up in an ethical and moral home. If I’d known the terrorist didn’t have a bomb, I wouldn’t have opened fire. The lives of the warriors around me and my own life were my consideration at the scene.”

Azaria, who has been under house arrest since his release from the army last month, read from a prepared statement, his eyes looking down at the paper and reading quickly.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to prison with my head held high,” he said. “I love this country with all my heart, I love the army, I love you, and again thank you with all my heart for everything you have done for me. Thank you for everything.”

In a letter to Eizenkot informing him of the decision to forego an appeal, he did not explicitly express regret for his action, but said that he wanted “to clarify that if I had known in advance what became apparent in hindsight—that there was no explosive device on the body of the terrorist—I would not have shot.”

Eizenkot has said that he would give a request for leniency “serious consideration.”

But media reports have quoted an unnamed army official who said that a clear expression of guilt or remorse would be a precondition for leniency.