An Israeli soldier accused of shooting a Palestinian attacker as he lay wounded on the ground was sentenced to 18 months in prison by an Israeli military court.
Although prosecutors wanted the soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, to serve three to five years, the soldier also suffered a demotion in rank and will serve probation.
Palestinians have called the sentence a “joke.”
The shooting occurred last year during a long wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence, with Palestinian attackers carrying out numerous stabbing and shooting attacks and killing 41 Israelis and two Americans.
During the same period, Israeli forces killed 235 Palestinians, most of them attackers.
Palestinians, as well as many human rights groups, long accused Israeli forces of using excessive force and maybe even harming innocent people mistaken as attackers, but they never had any evidence to support those claims until the video of the Azaria shooting surfaced.
Sgt. Azaria, an Israeli army medic, was captured on a cellphone video in March as he fatally shot the wounded Palestinian, just after the man stabbed a soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron.
The Palestinian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, was lying on the ground wounded and unarmed when Azaria approached him and shot him in the head.
Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine Advocacy director at Human Rights Watch said this about the incident: “Sending Elor Azaria to prison for his crime sends an important message about reigning in excessive use of force. 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.”
The outcome of the trial set off hundreds of protesters outside the Tel Aviv court who wanted to see Sgt. Elor Azaria exonerated since his supporters felt Azaria acted in self-defense.
According to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is the leader of the nationalist Jewish Home Party and a supporter of Azaria: “Even if he erred, Elor should not sit in prison. We will all pay the price.”
Col. Maya Heller was the head of the three-judge panel and stated that mitigating factors were taken into consideration in Azaria’s sentencing in that the incident took place “in hostile territory, ” and it was Azaria’s first real operational experience.
Col. Heller said, “We took note of the harm suffered by his family.”
However, she added, “Azaria had not expressed remorse for his actions and ruled that he did not open fire out of danger — but rather to harm the assailant.”
See related story and watch video: ISRAELI Soldier in Trouble for Shooting Terrorist
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