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Elor Azaria: Right calls for immediate pardon, left says sentence 'embarrassing'

Israeli women protest outside the defence ministry in Tel Aviv on January 4, 2017, in support of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant
Jack Guez (AFP)
Palestinian Authority condemns sentence as a 'green light' for crimes against Palestinians

Reactions poured in from across the political spectrum as a military court on Tuesday sentenced Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldier Elor Azaria to 18 months in prison and a demotion to private after he was convicted of manslaughter earlier this year for the fatal shooting of a disarmed and wounded Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last March.

The lead judge in the controversial trial Col. Maya Heller reviewed testimony from both the defense and prosecution before handing down the sentence, calling the court's decision a "difficult one."

Education Minister and Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett called for an official pardon for Azaria, saying that "Elor was sent to protect the citizens of Israel in the midst of a wave of Palestinian knife attacks, and the investigation process was inherently contaminated."

"Even if he made a mistake, we must not jail Azaria. We will all pay the price," he added.

Housing Minister Major General (retired) Yoav Galant went a step further, sending a request to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, calling for them to grant Azaria clemency.

"As we take care to return every soldier who was wounded or captured, we must also take care of the soldiers who have made mistakes, even when the error is serious and dramatic," Galant argued.

In the letter to Liberman and Eisenkot, Galant said that Azaria's actions had "exacerbated existing divisions and created a new and unnecessary tears," in the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli society.

"Elor's conduct was wrongful," he continued, adding that it is necessary for IDF commanders in the future to teach the soldiers under their command about the event and highlight its serious implications.

"Every soldier must realize the intensity of the power in his hands, and know to apply it to his tasks in accordance with the IDF's ethical principles," he said, but added "However, in light of the punishment that the soldier already served in custody, and the need to heal rifts that may aggravate the parts of the nation, we must find common sense and mercy."

Liberman issued a brief statement on his Facebook page saying that "I hope both sides do what is needed to end this affair."

"Those who don't like this verdict or sentence must respect the court, but the defense establishment must also stand beside the soldier and his family," he wrote. "Everyone must take into account this was an outstanding soldier on the one hand, and on the other a terrorist who came to kill Jews."

Likud MK David Bitan told Israel's Channel 2 news that he doesn't want to see Azaria "spend a single day in jail."

From the center of aisle, head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid said in a statement that "Elor Azaria is a soldier who made a serious mistake under difficult circumstances. From what little he said, it seems that he prefers to be treated like a solider in army, and not like a child."

"I hope Azaria's commanders will consider amnesty, allowing him and his family to return to their lives, but only officers in the army can make that decision. Politicians should stop interfering in what is happening in the military system," he continued, adding "I back the chief of staff and the court in their courageous stand in support of the values of the military."

Human Rights watch meanwhile said that the sentence "sends an important message."

“Sending Elor Azaria to prison for his crime sends an important message about reining in excessive use of force,” a statement from the organization said, while urging Israeli officials to "repudiate the shoot-to-kill rhetoric that too many of them have promoted, even when there is no imminent threat of death. Pardoning Azaria or reducing his punishment would only encourage impunity for unlawfully taking the life of another person.”

Former head of the left-wing Peace Now organization Yariv Oppenheimer criticized the sentence as too lenient, and called it "an embarrassment."

"[The sentence is ] embarrassing in its leniency, and even more embarrassing is the conduct of politicians who still demand pardon for a man who shot a terrorist in the head, because he deserved it,” Oppenheimer wrote on Twitter, calling the state "bloodthirsty and vengeful."

Chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party Zehava Galon, leader of the left-wing Meretz party condemned calls to pardon Azaria as “contempt for the sentence [and] lending legitimacy and seeking to whitewash acts that have a big black flag flying above them.”

The Palestinian Authority also released a statement in which it called the sentence "a green light for the occupation army to continue its crimes" against Palestinians.

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