Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter over shooting of Palestinian attacker

Jon Howard
January 5, 2017

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called for the pardon of an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier who had just been convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting a wounded Palestinian man previous year in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.

The court's ruling was a rare case of conviction of a soldier for a killing of a Palestinian person. Sentencing is expected in the coming weeks.

The court can sentence those convicted of manslaughter to 20 years in prison term although military observers believe Azaria may only be handed a sentence of up to five years.

Within minutes of the verdict, leading politicians were already calling for him to be pardoned including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, however, said the conviction marked "a hard and painful day for all of us".

A poll published on Wednesday by Israel's Channel 2 television showed that 67 percent of respondents favour a pardon for Azaria.

Meanwhile, in Israel, rallies were held in support of the convicted soldier and some senior politicians extended their support.

At the time of the incident, there had been increased violence between Israelis and Palestinians, including knife attacks.

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"I have received hundreds of messages from Israeli settlers threatening me, and they have tried to pay me bribes to convince me to change my testimony in court".

Azaria's defense team vowed to take the case to the military court of appeals.

Relatives described the verdict as "a disgrace", saying the three-judge panel "should be ashamed of themselves". On the day of the shooting, Netanyahu condemned it; but later backtracked and said the soldier's actions must be examined in light of the operational circumstances - and even considered inviting Azaria's parents to the Prime Minister's Residence.

"Whatever the results of trials of individual soldiers, the Israeli government should issue clear directives to use force only in accordance with global law", Bashi said.

It remains to be seen whether or not Netanyahu and allies will be able to pressure President Rivlin into issuing the pardon, when Azaria inevitably applies for one.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defence minister, also said he disagreed with the "difficult" verdict and would do anything he could to assist Sgt Azaria and his family.

The case broke open deep tensions in Israeli society over the conduct of the military in the Palestinian territories. "Therefore, we must carefully consider the possibility of pardoning him", she said.

The trial is particularly emotive due to Israel's policy of mandatory military service for 18-year-olds, giving rise to a "public compact" which "requires the society to support its young troops nearly without question", says the Washington Post.

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