By Kaamil Ahmed
JERUSALEM (AA): Palestinians have accused an Israeli military court of letting a soldier off too lightly — after it sentenced him to 18 months behind bars for fatally shooting an already-injured Palestinian man last year — while the Israeli right has called for the soldier’s immediate pardon.
Soldier Elor Azaria, 18, was convicted of manslaughter in January after the court ruled he had “needlessly” killed Abdul-Fattah Sharif by shooting him in the head following an alleged attack in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
“The soldier killed my son in cold blood; he should have been sentenced to life in prison,” Sharif’s father, Youssri Sharif, told Anadolu Agency, insisting his family would continue to press for harsher punishment.
“We refuse the Israeli court verdict, as it is biased in favor of the murderer and protects Israel’s continued crimes against the Palestinian people,” he said.
Xavier Abu Eid, an advisor in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiations department, tweeted: “In Israel, to execute a Palestinian gives you 18 months of prison with half of the government asking for pardon.”
While January’s conviction of Azaria for manslaughter was seen by many as a rare example of an Israeli soldier being held to account for killing a Palestinian, legal rights group Adalah said the “minimal sentence” had shown that the case was “unexceptional”.
“[This case] reflects the widespread impunity enjoyed by Israeli security personnel accused — or even convicted in a court of law — of crimes against Palestinians,” Adalah General-Director Hassan Jabareen said in a statement.
“Azaria’s light sentence of 18 months is an expression of disregard for the value of Palestinian life and likewise fails to serve as a deterrent,” he added.
Following Tuesday’s sentencing, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the far-right Jewish Home party and who had opposed the trial altogether, immediately tweeted that Azaria should be pardoned from serving his sentence, which is set to begin on March 5.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, similarly said that Azaria “should not have had to sit one more day in jail beyond what he has already sat,” Israel’s Channel 7 news reported.
In contrast, fellow Likud lawmaker Yehuda Glick praised the court’s “balanced” decision.
Military prosecutor Nadav Weisman, for his part, told reporters afterwards that “justice was done”, saying the sentence would send a message to Israeli commanders.
Last year’s shooting was caught on camera by a Palestinian activist, leading to a split within the Israeli government when the military moved to prosecute Azaria despite vocal opposition from Israel’s far right — including Netanyahu.
Sharif was executed by a shot to the head while lying wounded on the ground. The video of the incident shows Israeli soldiers and paramilitary settlers milling around while two Palestinians are lying on the ground, one wounded and the other already killed.
The video shows an ambulance carting away the Israeli soldier who was mildly wounded by a small knife wound, then one of the soldiers lifts his gun and shoots the prone, wounded Palestinian in the head, killing him.
“He’s not dead, shoot him in the head”, was spoken by a military medic to Azaria, who then shot Sharif in the head. No charges were filed against the medic.
While the court rejected Azaria’s argument that he had feared Sharif was armed when he shot him, Judge Maya Heller said the sentencing had taken into account the “hostile territory” on which the incident took place and the effect of the trial on Azaria’s family.
Military prosecutors had demanded a sentence of between three and five years in prison for Azaria, who has remained in open detention on an army base since the shooting.
Additional reporting by The Muslim News
[Ar chive Photo: body of Lafi Awd killed by Israeli soldiers during protes at Budrus district during funeral ceremony incRamallah on14 November, 2015. Photographer: Issam Rimawi/AA]