Israeli Defense Soldier Elor Azaria was filmed in March shooting a Palestinian terrorist laying on the ground in the head, after the terrorist tried to stab multiple Israeli soldiers.
Azaria is now on trial for manslaughter before a military tribunal, in public proceedings that have galvanized all sides of Israeli politics.
“Terrorists need to be killed,” Israeli Army Reserve General Uzi Dayan told the court on Azaria’s behalf. On the opposite side Israel’s Defense Minister at the time said Azaria’s action amounted to a summary execution and was “an utter breach of the army’s values and its code of ethics in combat.”
Azaria told the court in June he felt a “real and immediate danger” from the terrorist presence, and particularly worried about the presence of a suicide bomb. His commander reportedly slapped him after the shooting and shouted “Are you crazy?”
Israel’s population is almost entirely split on Azaria’s guilt. The Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University released a survey in October finding a 47-45 percent split whether a terrorist should be killed on the spot after trying to kill Israelis, or transferred immediately into custody.
The situation is particularly sensitive because Azaria is only 19 years old, and was compulsorily serving in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Families throughout Israel sympathize with a teenager serving in a combat situation, faced with life and death decisions. Azaria’s mother occasionally wrapped her arms around her son during the trial while weeping; his father shouted, “You’re trying to frame him!” at the prosecution.
“If a soldier kills for no reason, he should go to jail. But in this case I disagree with the prosecution,” Israeli Major General Danny Biton told the court on Azaria’s behalf. Biton said the decision to prosecute Azaria was “castrating the army” and angrily queried the court “Should every soldier go to battle with a lawyer at his side?”
Azaria’s trial heard its last witness Oct. 26, and the three-judge panel remains locked in deliberation. Whatever the outcome, half of Israel is likely to be unhappy.
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