The defense team of Elor Azarya called for the Israeli soldier to be exonerated of all charges for shooting a prone Palestinian in the head in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron in March, Israeli media reported on Sunday.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Azarya’s lawyers argued that the trial had confirmed the soldier’s version of events, which stated that Azarya shot Abd al-Fatah al-Sharif at point-blank range after the Palestinian had already been shot and severely wounded after allegedly attempting to stab another Israeli soldier, because Azarya believed al-Sharif could have reached for a knife or had been concealing explosive underneath his jacket.
However, Azarya’s version has been thoroughly contradicted during the duration of the trial by his commanders and experts, who stated that al-Sharif did not constitute a threat at the time of his death, and that him wearing a jacket was not suspicious given the weather that day.
Claims that the young Palestinian could have reached for a knife were also dispelled after new video footage surfaced in June, capturing events after Azarya executed al-Sharif, showing an Israeli ambulance driver kicking the knife towards the body, which had been far out of arm’s reach.
Azarya’s lawyers said his commanders were the ones who had not acted properly in the case, and accused them of putting the blame on the soldier to deflect scrutiny.
Weeks into Azarya’s trial, reports emerged that the second Palestinian killed alongside al-Sharif was also shot in the head execution style. However, no trial has reportedly been opened in the case.
The final verdict in the case is expected to be issued in the next two weeks, the Jerusalem Post said.
The high-profile case drew unprecedented international condemnation toward the Israeli army, after a video clip was immediately released showing the brutal killing. However, large numbers of Israelis have also come out in support of the soldier.
Despite Azarya being thrust into the spotlight for being caught in the act — with his own commanders testifying that the shooting was unjustified and the Israeli army prosecution branding the case “cold-blooded murder” — many have said the case is just a documented example of a wider “shoot-to-kill” policy against Palestinians advocated by Israeli officials since a wave of unrest began last October.
Following the March 25 shooting, Amnesty International said that the incident mirrored a number which had taken place previously.
“Israeli forces have a long history of carrying out unlawful killings — including extrajudicial executions — in the occupied Palestinian territories with impunity,” Philip Luther, director of the organization’s Middle East and North Africa Program said at the time.
“While it is encouraging that the soldier in the video has reportedly been suspended and placed under investigation, previous Israeli investigations have failed to hold members of the Israeli forces accountable even when there has been clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing.”
Israeli rights group B’Tselem has accused Israeli soldiers and police officers of acting as “judge, jury and executioner” for Palestinians during the past few months of unrest, also blaming official encouragement and effective impunity for Israeli soldiers.