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Israeli soldier on trial for killing Palestinian released home for a 'short break'

Dec. 30, 2016 7:16 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 31, 2016 4:42 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Elor Azarya, the Israeli soldier facing manslaughter charges for shooting a Palestinian to death after he was immobilized on the ground in Hebron in March, was released to his home on Friday for a “short break” from his detention.

According to Israeli new site Arutz Sheva, Azarya’s father Charlie took him home Friday morning for a break that would last until Sunday. The final verdict on the case is expected to follow shortly after.

Azarya, 19, has been in “open detention” at an Israeli military base since April, where he is free to roam and has received visits from his family.

Spokesman for the Azarya family Ran Karmi Bozaglo was quoted by Arutz Sheva as saying that “Elor was released for a short break, on the eve of the deliberations at which the verdict for his case will be announced."

"It is of note that limitations and conditions have been imposed on the break, including that he is forbidden from leaving his home, something which implies house arrest.”

“The members of the family believe and hope that soon the Army will return to them the son whom they sent to guard the homeland. The family requests that the public respect its privacy and allow them to best utilize the short time allotted to share with their son,” he added.

As the case drew to a close, Azarya's defense team last month called for the soldier to be exonerated of all charges for shooting 21-year-old Abd al-Fatah al-Sharif at point-blank range after the Palestinian had already been shot and severely wounded for allegedly attempting to stab another Israeli soldier.

Azarya’s lawyers argued that the trial had confirmed the soldier’s version of events, which stated that Azarya shot al-Sharif because he believed the immobilized man could have reached for a knife or had been concealing explosive underneath his jacket.

However, Azarya’s version has been thoroughly contradicted during the duration of the trial by his commanders and experts, who stated that al-Sharif did not constitute a threat at the time of his death, and that him wearing a jacket was not suspicious given the weather that day.

Weeks into Azarya’s trial, reports emerged that the second Palestinian killed alongside al-Sharif was also shot in the head execution style. However, no trial has been opened in the case.

Earlier this month, soldiers in Azarya’s battalion reportedly said they will go “AWOL” or even desert should their fellow combatant be convicted of manslaughter charges by the military court, and large numbers of Israeli citizens have also come out in support of the soldier.

On Wednesday, former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his support of the Azaryas, which Yaalon said came after Israeli politicians “saw an opportunity, decided to declare the soldier a hero and started spreading rumors against the prime minister, against me, and against the (Israeli army).”

“Later, sadly, the prime minister switched sides and decided to embrace the soldier and his family,” he said.

Shortly after Yaalon in May urged Israeli officers to speak out against the “extremist minority” who he said were working to undermine the values of Israel’s military, Netanyahu replaced him with far-right Avigdor Lieberman as the new defense minister, who has since publicly supported Azarya.

“We don’t just shoot at people,” Yaalon said Wedneday, “not even if he’s a terrorist, not even at another soldier who just shot at you but has now surrendered and has been neutralized, we don’t just shoot.”

"If we don’t come out very clearly against this, that we denounce it, this behavior, then the Palestinians will accuse us -- as they have for a long time -- of committing extra-judicial killings."

The high-profile case has indeed drew unprecedented international condemnation toward the Israeli army, after a video clip was immediately released showing the brutal killing.

Amnesty International said that al-Sharif's killing mirrored a number of incidents which had taken place previously and that “Israeli forces have a long history of carrying out unlawful killings -- including extrajudicial executions -- in the occupied Palestinian territories with impunity."

"While it is encouraging that the soldier in the video has reportedly been suspended and placed under investigation, previous Israeli investigations have failed to hold members of the Israeli forces accountable even when there has been clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing."

Israeli rights group B’Tselem has accused Israeli soldiers and police officers of acting as “judge, jury and executioner” for Palestinians during the past few months of unrest, also blaming official encouragement and effective impunity for Israeli soldiers who are rarely held accountable for their excessive, and often lethal, use of force against Palestinians.
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