Elor Azaria, a 20-year-old Israeli soldier, was convicted of manslaughter Wednesday for shooting dead a wounded Palestinian attacker who had been disarmed of the knife he was wielding. Sergeant Azaria shot 21-year-old Abdul Fatah al-Sharif in the head March 24, 2016.
A video surfaced soon after the incident that showed al-Sharif lying immobilized on the ground in Hebron in the occupied West Bank. Another 21-year-old Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi who was accompanying al-Sharif, stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier. After the provocation, Israeli soldiers opened fire on the attackers, killing al-Qasrawi and injuring al-Sharif.
In the video, apparently filmed by a Palestinian several minutes after the incident and released by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, al-Sharif was initially seen to be alive. But soon, an Israeli soldier (later identified as Sergeant Azaria) can be seen loading his gun and fatally shooting the wounded man from several feet away. Azaria claimed he shot al-Sharif because he believed the latter might be wearing an explosive vest but prosecutors dismissed the defense argument and dubbed his motive as revenge.
Judges took into account the fact that Azaria's company and battalion commanders did not recollect him expressing the same concern when he was questioned in the aftermath of the incident. The judges also accepted the post mortem report’s conclusion which said al-Sharif was killed due to a single bullet to the head.
"(Sgt Azaria) violated the rules of engagement without operational justification as the terrorist was lying on the ground wounded and represented no immediate threat to the accused or others who were present" prosecutors said according to the BBC.
Another Israeli soldier who testified against Azaria told military investigators Azaria said during the incident: "They stabbed my friend and tried to kill him — he deserves to die."
However, Azaria denied the allegations and said he didn’t recall making any such statement.
The quantum of Azaria's sentence has not been announced, but he could face up to 20 years in prison.
"He should be sentenced in this court like they do with Palestinians… life sentences, torture and then ending up dead lying in a refrigerator," Yusri al-Sharif, the victim's father, told Al-Jazeera.
The trial has garnered a lot of attention and proved to be divisive. Palestinian’s and Israeli human rights groups have called for a stop on the use of excessive force. Meanwhile, in Israel, rallies were held in support of the convicted soldier and some senior politicians extended their support. There were also scuffles outside the courtroom in Tel Aviv between Azaria's supporters and police officers before the verdict was announced.
But military leaders disassociated themselves from Azaria’s conduct, saying his actions are not emblematic of the values of the Israel Defense Forces.