Anger outside court as controversial case closes

By Sara Lemel in Tel Aviv

Elor Azaria was supported by friends and family as he waited for the verdict to be read out. Picture / AP
Elor Azaria was supported by friends and family as he waited for the verdict to be read out. Picture / AP

"There will be civil war over this!" Idal Sharon screams. Together with more than a hundred other protesters the 31-year-old Tel Aviv woman is standing in front of military headquarters where Elor Azaria has just been convicted of manslaughter.

The 20-year-old Israel Defence Force sergeant was found guilty of shooting a 21-year-old Palestinian, who was lying injured on the ground, in the head in March last year.

Azaria's supporters are outraged, directing their anger at Israelis on the political left and at the media.

Some of them have draped themselves in Israel's flag, while others wear the yellow and black scarf of the Beitar Jerusalem football club, whose supporters have gained a reputation for their racist chants.

Members of La Familia, the ultra-right fans that form the core of the club's anti-Arab supporters, rip a notebook out of the hands of a journalist in a show of their distaste for the media.

Others among the protesters are courteous, such as Corinne Parienti, 54, an immigrant from Marseille, who is carrying a black shield with the words "I am Elor" in white.

"Elor did what he had to," she says, urging strong action against all attackers. The dead Palestinian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, had been carrying a knife.

"A terrorist is not a victim. He wasn't there to distribute flowers. A terrorist should not be allowed to survive his attack," Parienti says.

A man with a loud megaphone calls out: "Those who would kill you, you must kill first!" And another wearing a white kippah terms the conviction "a shame on the state of Israel". Referring to the Betselem human rights organisation that provided the key evidence that helped to convict Azaria, he adds: "The devil will come for you, Betselem!"

One of Betselem's staff filmed the incident in Hebron on the West Bank on March 24 last year. The video shows al-Sharif moving his head slightly as he lies on the ground. An Israeli soldier is receiving medical treatment nearby after being stabbed.

Suddenly Azaria raises his rifle and shoots the attacker without warning as he lies on his back.

Blood is then seen streaming from al-Fatah's head.

The trial has sparked furious controversy within Israel over the circumstances in which IDF troops can fire on Palestinians against the backdrop of a wave of attacks that have claimed the lives of 37 Israelis since October 2015.

More than 250 Palestinians have been killed in the same period, most of them shot while attacking Israelis.

According to a poll conducted by the Democracy Institute, 65 per cent of Jewish Israelis see Azaria's actions as an act of self-defence.

Support for the medic was greatest among Israeli youth of military age, with 84 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 supporting him.

Israel's conscript army - men serve close to three years and women two - likes to see itself as "the most moral in the world" and takes pride in its ethical code, which goes by the name "Purity of Arms".

However, in the court's view, the IDF soldier killed out of revenge for the attack on a fellow soldier and fired "needlessly."

- DPA

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