IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot ordered Wednesday that four months be deducted from the 18-month prison sentence of former IDF soldier Elor Azaria. The commutation of his sentence is the response of Eizenkot to a letter sent by Azaria in August, in which he basically apologized for violating military protocol when he shot a terrorist who was on the ground in Chevron. In a statement, the IDF spokesperson said that Eizenkot had made the decision based on “mercy for the former soldier,” but the sentence was not reduced further because Eizenkot felt that Azaria has not taken responsibility or expressed remorse for his action.
Azaria had been sentenced to 18 months in a military prison after being convicted of manslaughter and conduct unbecoming an IDF soldier. Azaria had appealed the sentence, but that appeal was turned down by a military court in July. Azaria then wrote to Eizenkot, appealing to him to commute the sentence, or to pardon him.
In his letter to Eizenkot, Azaria wrote that he regretted shooting the prone terrorist. “Had I known then that he was not armed, I would not have shot him. I have been in custody since March 24, 2016. I would also like to make clear that I do not plan to file any more appeals.” Azaria had the option of filing an appeal with the High Court, but told Eizenkot that he rejected that option. “As a result of this incident, my father suffered a stroke and lost his ability to stand and walk. It was only after a great deal of rehabilitation that he is now able to walk, but in a limited manner,” Azaria wrote, adding that “I hereby request that my punishment be reduced or replaced with public service. I wish to return to my normal life and restore my life, and that of my family’s.”
Azaria was convicted on Purim 2016 after shooting at the terrorist in Chevron when he was neutralized and on the ground, after he had been shot when he tried to stab soldiers. At his trial, defense attorneys stressed Azaria’s sterling record as a soldier, and the fact that the possibility of a further terror attack — in which the terrorist who was on the ground might set off a bomb that he could have been carrying on his person — justified the shooting, or at least provided reasonable grounds for Azaria having acted the way he did. He was sentenced in February to 18 months in prison. In addition, he was sentenced to a suspended sentence of one year, and was also demoted from corporal back to private. The court said that it had gone “very easy” on the soldier, as the standard penalty for manslaughter was 20 years in prison. Prosecutors had sought sentences between 3 and 5 years.