Hebron, Palestinian (BBN) – An Israeli soldier filmed shooting dead a wounded Palestinian attacker after he had been disarmed of a knife has been convicted of manslaughter.
Sgt Elor Azaria, 20, shot Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, in the head while he was lying immobile on a road, reports BBC.
The incident happened in Hebron in the occupied West Bank last March, after another soldier was stabbed.
Sgt Azaria said he thought Sharif might have an explosive vest, but prosecutors said his motive was revenge.
The high-profile trial has proven extremely divisive in Israel, says the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Tel Aviv.
There have been rallies to support the soldier and some senior politicians backed Sgt Azaria.
However, top military figures were quick to say that his actions did not reflect the values of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
In the incident on 24 March, Sharif and another 21-year-old Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops opened fire on them, wounding Sharif and killing Qasrawi.
Footage of the scene several minutes later, filmed by a Palestinian and released by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, shows Sharif alive.
A soldier, identified as Sgt Azaria, is then seen cocking his rifle and fatally shooting Sharif from several metres away.
In their indictment, prosecutors said Sgt Azaria “violated the rules of engagement without operational justification as the terrorist was lying on the ground wounded and represented no immediate threat for the accused or others who were present”.
Delivering the verdict on Wednesday, the panel of three military judges rejected Sgt Azaria’s defence that he shot Sharif because he continued to pose a threat.
He had told the court that he believed there might be a suicide belt under the Palestinian’s jacket.
The judges noted that Sgt Azaria’s company and battalion commanders had testified that he did not mention the same concerns when they questioned him immediately after the shooting incident.
The judges also said there was no dispute regarding the veracity of the statements made by another soldier, who testified to military investigators that Sgt Azaria had told him during the incident: “They stabbed my friend and tried to kill him – he deserves to die.”
Sgt Azaria told the court that he did not recall having any such conversation.
The judges also accepted the findings of a post-mortem examination, which concluded that it was the single bullet to the head that killed Sharif.
Palestinian leaders had called for Sgt Azaria to be brought to justice.
The shooting happened during a wave of knife, gun and vehicle ramming attacks by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs in Israel and the West Bank that have left at least 42 people dead since September 2015, according to the Israeli authorities.
Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups said Sgt Azaria’s case showed excessive force was being used to stop such attacks.
Human Rights Watch said on Monday that there had been more than 150 instances since October 2015 in which Israeli security forces fatally shot Palestinian adults and children suspected of trying to stab, run over, or shoot Israelis.