Elor Azaria, the Israeli occupation soldier who shot and killed a motionless Palestinian in Hebron in 2016, has told Israeli press he has “no remorse” for his actions.
Speaking to Israel Hayom today, Azaria said of the killing that “I have no remorse whatsoever” and “there is no doubt that if you took me back to those seconds in Hebron, when the event was unfolding, I would act exactly the same all over again because that is what had to be done.” Azaria added that:
I acted in full accordance with what I was trained to do from the moment I became a combat soldier […] I cocked my weapon, I told the company and platoon commanders to move away and I shot him in the head, and that was the end of it. Just one shot.
In March 2016, Azaria was caught on camera shooting 21-year-old Palestinian Abdel Fattah Al-Sharif in the head while he lay wounded on the ground in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank. The footage was released by Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem and caused international uproar, leading an investigation to be opened against him.
In January 2017 Azaria was convicted of manslaughter by a Tel Aviv court. Israeli Justice Maya Heller rejected arguments made by Azaria’s defence team that “the Palestinian assailant was already dead and that Azaria felt threatened at the time of the shooting”, saying: “you can’t have it both ways.” Supporters of Azaria gathered outside the court and abused passing Palestinian workers while hundreds of protesters blocked traffic and clashed with Israeli police outside army headquarters in Tel Aviv, angry at the prospect of Azaria’s conviction.
A month later, Azaria was handed an 18-month prison sentence. Azaria’s defence team immediately vowed to appeal the ruling. The three judges who tried Azaria agreed he had acted with intent to kill and not because he felt threatened, as his defence team had claimed. However, two judges ruled the “unique post-terror attack” context should be considered, citing allegations that wounded Palestinian Al-Sharif had attempted to carry out a stabbing attack on Israeli soldiers before being shot.
Azaria was treated leniently throughout his detention, being granted release to spend the Jewish festival of Passover with his family after barely serving a month of his sentence. Although Azaria was initially being held at Nahshonim Military Base, east of Tel Aviv, in July 2017 he was released to house arrest and allowed to visit the synagogue. In September, Israel’s military chief of staff cut Azaria’s jail term by four months, citing “consideration of the fact that he is a combat soldier and a warrior” who had “endured a lot”.
Not long after his sentence was reduced, in October 2017, Azaria submitted a plea for presidential pardon. In his letter to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Azaria wrote “I’m sitting in prison [thinking of] an Israeli soldier whose freedom was taken from him because he acted against the evildoers who came to shed Jewish blood.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a petition supporting Azaria’s plea, while Israel’s Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also called for Azaria to be pardoned. In November, President Rivlin rejected these requests, saying in a statement that “the president has taken into account the offenses you [Azaria] committed and their circumstances… and he has decided to reject the request.”
In March 2018 it emerged that Azaria would be released early for “good behaviour.” In May he was released, having served just nine months of his prison sentence. Azaria’s release was brought forward by two days following his request to attend his brother’s wedding. Visiting the site of the shooting in July, Azaria received a hero’s welcome and was greeted by Israeli politician and extremist settler, Baruch Marzel, who lives in the illegal Tel Rumeida settlement of Hebron.