Monday, November 23, 2020

Palestinians protest amid Israeli calls to pardon convicted soldier

By The Palestine Monitor - January 05, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Extrajudicial Killing] [Hebron]

Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who was caught on camera killing a Palestinian attacker while he was no longer posing a threat, was convicted of manslaughter by an Israeli military court on Wednesday. He could now face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The incident, which took place on March 24 in the West Bank city of Hebron, was filmed by a Palestinian activist with Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. The video sparked outrage around the world after it was widely circulated online. It shows 21-year-old Abdul Fattah al-Sharif lying motionlessly on the ground, shot and wounded after stabbing and lightly wounding an Israeli soldier at the Tel Rumeida checkpoint in the Old City of Hebron. Another attacker, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, 21, had been killed on the spot.
The video shows Israeli soldiers, settlers and medics paying little attention to al-Sharif until he lightly moves his head, at which point a soldier, later identified as Elor Azaria, steps forward, cocks his rifle and fires a single shot at the wounded man. A trail of blood from al-Sharif’s head is then seen streaming across the pavement.
According to media reports, judge Maya Heller read out the court’s decision for more than two hours before issuing a verdict, going through every shred of evidence presented by Azaria’s defense team, who maintained his innocence throughout the trial. Judges accepted the video as authentic and pointed out time and time again that Azaria had been inconsistent in his account of what happened. The 20-year-old soldier is expected to be sentenced on January 15, while his defense team has already said it will file an appeal.
Meanwhile, clashes broke out outside the courtroom in Jaffa between police and supporters of Azaria, who called him a hero and demanded his release.
The case has divided Israeli public opinion, with 65 percent of the Israeli public supporting Azaria’s self-defense claim, according to an August 2016 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute. Israeli politicians have also been vocal in their support for the soldier, with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman campaigning for his release. On Wednesday after the verdict, Netanyahu backed pardoning the soldier in a Facebook post.
"This is a difficult and painful day - first and foremost for Elor, his family, Israel's soldiers, many citizens and parents of soldiers, among them me ... I support granting a pardon to Elor Azaria," the post read.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, who has the authority to issue pardons, later issued a press statement in which he said that “in the event that a pardon should be requested, it will be considered by the President in accordance with standard practices and after recommendations from the relevant authorities.
Another demonstration took place in Hebron’s city centre, with dozens of people coming out in support of Azaria’s family.
“For me, a just verdict would be one that is similar to the verdicts our sons get. Life sentences, or spending their sentences freezing,” said al-Sharif’s father Yousri, referring to Israel’s practice of retaining the bodies of Palestinian attackers and alleged attackers and freezing them.
Since an uptick in violence that started in October 2015, at least 244 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers, including alleged or actual attackers, unarmed demonstrators and bystanders. In the same period, 36 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbings and shootings.
Last September, Amnesty International sent the Israeli authorities a memorandum in which it detailed 20 unlawful killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces and asked for clarification about the status of the investigations. According to Amnesty, Palestinians were deliberately shot dead in at least 15 of those cases, despite posing no imminent threat, in what the rights group calls extrajudicial executions. The cases include people who were wounded or fleeing, as well as unarmed demonstrators. Azaria is the only member of Israel’s security apparatus to be charged for the death of a Palestinian in 2016.
“Since the escalation of violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories last year, there has been a worrying rise in unlawful killings by Israeli forces, fostered by a culture of impunity,” Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, had said in a statement about the memorandum.
“The cases of unlawful killings outlined in this memorandum reveal a shocking disregard for human life and pose some serious questions to the Israeli authorities. Those responsible must be brought to justice to ensure this cycle of unlawful killings ends.”
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs described Azaria’s conviction as a “mock trial”, made to “absorb” international condemnation of the incident, adding that the entire Israeli regime ought to stand trial for allowing the killing of Palestinians.
The Palestinian ambassador to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific also said the trial should be viewed in the context of the system of occupation and deprivation of basic human rights under which Palestinians live.
“The case of Sgt Elor Azaria’s cold-blooded execution of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif is not an isolated incident; it is the result of a system of occupation that encourages grave injustices against Palestinians, with extrajudicial killing being just one example,” a statement from the Palestinian delegation read.
The predominantly Palestinian Joint Arab List, the third largest political force in Israel’s Knesset, said on Thursday that “calls to pardon the killer soldier are a cheap attempt by coalition and opposition politicians to appease the extreme right-wing, which opposes convicting the soldier of manslaughter, in order to win its support. It is regrettable that members of the opposition are united with Netanyahu in their bid to win the same fascist vote.”


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