Man who filmed Israeli soldier shooting Palestinian man dead calls for IDF 'terrorist' to be jailed for life

Sgt Elor Azaria is awaiting sentencing for manslaughter as politicians call for a pardon

Lizzie Dearden@lizziedearden
Tuesday 10 January 2017 17:52
Palestinian man shot by Israeli soldier as he lies on the ground

The man who recorded the moment an Israeli soldier shot a disarmed Palestinian attacker dead has called for the “terrorist” to face a life sentence as the case continues to divide Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, is among the politicians calling for Sgt Elor Azaria to be pardoned after a military court found him guilty of manslaughter.

The former Israel Defence Forces (IDF) medic claimed he killed 21-year-old Abdel Fattah al-Sharif because he remained a threat, but judges found Azaria was exacting vengeance and stated that “he deserved to die” after pulling the trigger.

The killing was caught on video by a Palestinian human rights activist who heard gunshots outside his home in the West Bank city of Hebron on 24 March 2016.

Imad Abushamsiya filmed the aftermath of the stabbing attack on an IDF soldier, showing Ramzi al-Kasrawi dead in the road and al-Sharif lying with gunshot wounds metres away as the injured soldier was taken away by ambulance.

Sgt Elor Azaria in court with his family

The footage shows al-Sharif moving his head listlessly from side to side as a crowd of soldiers, paramedics and armed settlers mill around, appearing to make no attempt to check his condition.

The situation appears calm until Azaria approaches, shouts “stand back!”, and shoots al-Sharif in the head at close range.

Mr Abushamsiya's footage was published by the Palestinian Human Rights Defenders group and shared by Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, which condemned the “extrajudicial street killing”.

Within hours it had been picked up by news outlets around the world, sparking international condemnation and a rare statement from the Israeli authorities criticising a “grave breach of IDF values, conduct and standards of military operations”.

Mr Abushamsiya does not believe Azaria would have been prosecuted without his footage, saying there was no such punishment for other soldiers who have killed more than 200 Palestinians over the past 16 months.

“The world watched through my camera [as] this soldier shot the boy in cold blood, and his life was not in any danger at all,” he told The Independent.

“If this situation happened for an Israeli shot by Palestinian, they would kill him or at least put him in jail for forever.

“I see [Azaria] as a criminal and a murderer and a terrorist who deserves to spend his whole life in jail.”

The 20-year-old was convicted of manslaughter at a military court in Tel Aviv on 4 January but has not yet been sentenced.

Azaria faces up to 20 years in prison, although legal experts expect a much lighter term.

As well as Mr Netanyahu, ministers and prominent right-wing politicians have called for the soldier to be pardoned – a position supported by 67 per cent of respondents in an Israeli television poll.

The case has divided Israel, seeing Azaria’s supporters clash with police at angry protests outside court and two people arrested for inciting violence against the three judges who convicted him.

Mr Abushamsiya says he and his family have also received threats over the case and his work as a coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders group.

He sent The Independent numerous examples of online posts written in English and Hebrew. One includes a photo of Mr Abushamsiya, who lives with his wife and children in Hebron, stamped with the word “wanted” on Facebook.

“We are all watching you now,” reads a message. “Your time will come,” another adds.

Mr Abushamsiya said Jewish settlers have protested outside his home, with one calling and threatening to burn his family alive “like the Dawabshehs”, a Palestinian family whose home was firebombed in the village of Duma.

Protests by Azaria's supporters

“I feel scared for myself and my family,” he added. “The situation difficult in Hebron, we feel that we live inside a jail in our homes.”

Military commanders swiftly condemned the killing of al-Sharif, issuing a rare statement criticising a “grave breach of IDF values, conduct and standards of military operations”.

But Mr Netanyahu and right-wing politicians have not echoed their condemnation. Education minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said Azaria killed a “terrorist who deserved to die” after attacking a soldier.

The Tel Aviv military court disagreed. “One cannot use this type of force, even if we're talking about an enemy's life,” its verdict said.

​Mr Abushamsiya is backing the family's calls for the case to be taken to the International Criminal Court.

The case is the first conviction of an Israeli soldier for killing a Palestinian since the start of a fresh wave of violence throughout Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in October 2015.

Palestinian attackers have killed at least 40 Israelis and several foreign nationals in stabbings, shootings and car rammings, while more than 230 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli security forces.

Authorities say the vast majority were carrying out or attempting attacks, while the UN and humanitarian groups have raised concern over the allegedly excessive use of force.

Israeli soldiers shot a Palestinian man dead after he allegedly attempted to stab them during a raid to detain suspected militants in a refugee camp near Nablus on Tuesday.

The Palestinian foreign ministry claimed that Mohammad al-Salahe, a 32-year-old, was “executed in cold blood” in the courtyard of his home in front of his mother.