TEL AVIV (JTA) — An Israeli soldier who shot a downed Palestinian terrorist was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Elor Azaria, 20, who was convicted last month in an Israeli court of manslaughter, was sentenced on Tuesday by a panel of three judges at the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv.
The judges also demoted Azaria by one rank from sergeant to private, and gave him a 12-month suspended sentence.
The military prosecution had asked for a sentence of three to five years. Azaria’s attorney said he will appeal the sentence, and also is appealing the verdict. He will request that Azaria not be required to enter prison until the end of the appeals. Prosecutors have called for Azaria to enter prison as early as Sunday.
About 100 people demonstrated outside of the IDF headquarters, called the Kiriya, during the sentencing. Among their chants were: “The people of Israel do not abandon soldiers,” and “We’ve come to take Elor.” The soldier’s father, Charlie, thanked the protesters and urged them to remain calm. “All of the soldiers here are our sons. So I request everyone show restraint,” he said.
In their sentencing decision, the judges stressed that the severity of the incident was mitigated by the fact that it took place in an active combat situation. This was a key component of the defense’s case.
The judges also found, however, that Azaria’s actions did “harm to societal values” and said that Azaria violated the Israeli army’s rules of engagement and values.
The judges also criticized the army for not taking better care of the soldier’s family, and also criticized the defense minister for his interference in the case.
Azaria, a medic in the elite Kfir Brigade, came on the scene following a Palestinian stabbing attack on soldiers in Hebron in the West Bank on March 24, 2016.
One assailant was killed, and Abdel Fattah al-Sharif was injured. Minutes later, while Sharif was lying on the ground, Azaria shot him in the head in a shooting that was captured on video by a local resident for the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem. Azaria was arrested the same day and indicted nearly a month later. Autopsy reports showed that the shots by Azaria killed Sharif.
Prior to shooting Sharif, Azaria had cared for a stabbed soldier.
The case has been controversial in Israel, with some on the political right calling for solidarity with Azaria and others, including military leaders, suggesting such calls reflect a national crisis of ethics.
Following the announcement of the verdict, several right-wing lawmakers called for Azaria to be pardoned. “Israel’s security demands he be pardoned. Elor was sent to protect Israelis at the height of a wave of Palestinian terror attacks. He cannot go to jail or we will all pay the price,” Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett said in a statement.
“Sending Elor Azaria to prison for his crime sends an important message about reigning in excessive use of force, said Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “But senior Israeli officials should also repudiate the shoot-to-kill rhetoric that too many of them have promoted, even when there is no imminent threat of death. Pardoning Azaria or reducing his punishment would only encourage impunity for unlawfully taking the life of another person.”