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Threats to judges in Azaria trial 'danger to democracy': chief justice

Right wing supporters protest outside the defence ministry in Tel Aviv on January 4, 2017, in support of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria ahead of his military trial verdict
Jack Guez (AFP)
PA to pursue further international investigations for suspected Palestinian attackers killed by Israelis

Threats and incitement against judges are a "danger to the rule of law and democracy," Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor said Thursday, after a slew of such verbal attacks following the conviction of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Sgt. Elor Azaria on the charge of manslaughter the day before.

Two Israelis were arrested by police Thursday morning for allegedly inciting violence and calling for attacks on the three judges who oversaw the trial.

"Without of course taking any stand on the legal verdict, we fully condemn a blatant attack such as we are now witness to, which has no place in any proper society," Justice Miriam Naor said.

"Substantive criticism of a verdict is of course legitimate, but the assaults taking place these days have violated the limits of legitimate dialogue, and pose a danger to the rule of law and democracy," Naor added.

Also Thursday, Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit ordered police to question protesters who on Wednesday called for violence against IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot as they chanted outside the courthouse.

Protesters had been observed warning Eisenkot to "watch out" and referencing slain former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, while another protester was heard shouting "you will die tonight" at Eisenkot through a megaphone.

IDF Spokesperson Moti Almoz also said that the military condemns "any inflammatory statement and action of any kind against the judges in the military courts, the military judicial system, and against anyone serving in the IDF whatsoever."

Jack Guez (AFP)

21-year-old IDF soldier Azaria, who was caught on video last March shooting an immobilized Palestinian who had just perpetrated a stabbing attack against Israeli soldiers, was convicted of manslaughter in a deeply divisive trial that has spurred protests and outcries of injustice.

Sentencing hearings for Azaria will begin next week, with both the prosecution and defense presenting arguments. Azaria's sentence is expected to be delivered next month.

Following the guilty verdict, police report waves of incitement and calls for violence online against the judges who served during the trial.

The Vigo social media monitoring firm has said that it has identified around 8,000 posts threatening violence over the conviction, the Times of Israel reports.

Special protection details have been ordered by the IDF for Col. Maya Heller, Lt. Col. Carmel Wahabi and Lt. Col. Yaron Sitbon, the three military judges.

JACK GUEZ (AFP)

A Jerusalem resident was arrested after posting such incitement on Facebook and another woman in Kiryat Gat was arrested for a similar post urging grenade attacks against the court’s chief judge, Heller.

She also wrote that “God will punish” Heller and shared other Facebook users’ posts calling for the judges to “kill themselves”.

She was released and placed on house arrest on the condition that she refrain from contacting Heller and agreed not to post to Facebook for 30 days.

Heidi Levine (POOL/AFP)

Family of slain Palestinian vow to take case to International Criminal Court

The conviction of manslaughter for the IDF soldier who shot a Palestinian attacker in military court Wednesday was not enough according to the deceased’s family, who say they plan to seek murder charges at the International Criminal Court.

The court should have charged the soldier with murder, not manslaughter, the uncle of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, Fathi al-Sharif, told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

Hazem Bader (AFP)

Sharif added that he didn’t have many expectations prior to the verdict because of public pressures on both sides.

“It’s clear that he will receive a light sentence or be pardoned, because we understand the pressures being brought to bear on the system and the sympathy that the soldier has been winning in Israeli society.” he said.

Indeed, Israeli officials including party leaders, Naftali Bennett, Miri Regev, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have all made statements urging the authorities to pardon Azaria in the wake of the verdict.

Leading the calls was Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who slammed the trial as "politically contaminated from the get go."

"Since there is no other court to turn to in Israel, we have to turn to international courts,” al-Sharif argued.

“For me, a just verdict will be one that is similar to the verdicts our sons (in Israeli prisons) get,” al-Sharif’s father, Yusri al-Sharif, told reporters in Hebron. “But Israel is trying its own son, so there is a possibility it will be lenient.”

The last manslaughter conviction against an Israeli soldier came 12 years ago. Many Palestinians often complain that Israel doesn’t prosecute crimes committed by its own soldiers readily enough.

As reported to Palestinian news agency Ma’an, a spokesperson for the family told a crowd of protesters gathered in Hebron’s central Ibn Rashd square while the verdict was being read that the family, with the help of the Palestinian leadership, would continue to push for a murder charge against Azaria in international courts.

“Our response as a family to the show trial for our son’s killer [is to say] it is a farcical trial, like the rest of the trials for crimes by [Israeli] soldiers and settlers against our children,” said the unnamed representative.

He added: “We will follow behind our political leadership and take the case of the martyr Abdel Fattah al-Sharif to the International Criminal Court to prosecute the hateful Israeli soldier, and we will pursue him in all the international human rights forums,” he added.

Palestinian government spokesman Yousef al-Mahmoud announced that the PA would pursue further international investigations into the hundreds of suspected Palestinian attackers killed by Israelis over the past year.

The only reason Azaria was convicted al-Mahmoud stated, was because “ the crime was documented on video and was transmitted on TV for the whole world to see.”

(Staff with agencies)

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