The military court headed by Col. Maya Heller handed down an 18-month jail sentence for Elor Azaria after convicting him of manslaughter for shooting dead a Palestinian terrorist who was wounded during a stabbing attack on a group of soldiers in Hebron. This was the most lenient possible sentence, starting in 12 days. It was clearly the outcome of mitigating factors, the clamorous controversy raised by his case, and improper intervention in the case by high officers and the defense minister. Azaria also lost his sergeant’s stripes and was reduced to private.
The court was divided over the sentence; the minority seeking between 30-60 months prison.
In handing down sentence, the court sharply reprimanded Azaria’s commanders as well as the chief of staff, and the defense minister at the time for publicly condemning his action in the course of the investigation and trial, instead of waiting for the court’s decision.
By inappropriately pre-judging him as having violated IDF values in shooting a terrorist after he was “neutralized,” the minister and top officers turned his case into an object of heated national controversy. The majority of popular opinion and troops justified his action in circumstances in which terrorist attacks on soldiers and civilians are routine occurrences in the country.
Moshe Ya’alon resigned as defense minister in the wake of the furor.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott may need to consideri his options, given the wide sympathy for the soldier voiced in the ranks through the social media and the poopular demonstrations in his support..
While the court dismissed the legitimacy of Azaria taking upon himself to shoot a terrorist, and reaffirmed the principle of the sanctity of human life for the Israeli army as well as its society, mitigating factors were taken into account for the light sentence: Elor was an outstanding serviceman in his capacity as combat medic. He had never before been caught up in an active terrorist event and his action was not premeditated.
The prosecution asked that Azaria be sentenced to three to five years behind bars, far below the maximum term, noting that he had shot a Palestinian who only minutes earlier had carried out an attack.
In passing the 18-month sentence, the court said that Azaria had not expressed regret for his crime but it noted that his army record had been unblemished up until the shooting and that his arrest had caused his family deep distress.
The presiding judge Maya Heller came out strongly against the way the military chain of command and the defense minister had handled the case. Indeed, shortly after the incident, the IDF spokesman Motti Almoz denounced Azaria as having committed “a grave offense against the spirit of the IDF and its expectations from every serviceman” – before he was fully apprised of the facts. Unlike the soldier he condemned, Almoz has since been promoted to head the IDF’s Manpower Division.