Adalah: Military court's conviction of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria for manslaughter in Hebron killing is exception to rule

Israeli military and civilian justice systems routinely turn blind eye to killings of Palestinians by soldiers and police officers.

The conviction by an Israeli military court on Wednesday, 4 January 2017 of an Israeli soldier in the killing of a Palestinian in the West Bank is the exception to the rule and stands unique in the long history of impunity enjoyed by Israeli armed forces.


Israeli army medic Sgt. Elor Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter by Tel Aviv Military Court's three-judge panel in the killing of Palestinian Abd Fatah al-Sharif in Hebron in March 2016. Azaria opened fire and killed al-Sharif as he was lying on the ground after he had already been shot during an alleged attempt to stab an Israeli soldier.


Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel emphasizes that the Israeli military and civilian justice system has routinely turned a blind eye to the killings of Palestinian civilians by soldiers and police officers.


Following a decision to relax the Israeli police’s open-fire regulations in late 2015, Israel continued to implement a “shoot to kill” policy against Palestinians, and failed to provide accountability or redress in suspected cases of extrajudicial executions (EJEs) involving both Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Israeli authorities have rejected opening full and transparent investigations into these incidents.


Adalah, together with Addameer – Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, has filed five cases related to extra-judicial executions of Palestinians by Israeli officers. However, the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Division (Mahash) charged with examining cases of deaths caused by police officers, moved to close all five cases.


Two years have passed since Israel's 2014 military offensive in the Gaza Strip that killed 2,251 Palestinians – the vast majority civilians – including 299 women and 551 children.


From the outset of the war, Adalah filed a series of complaints in 27 cases to Israeli authorities demanding independent investigations into suspected violations of international law committed by the Israeli military – including the killing and wounding of civilians – and criminal prosecutions of those responsible. 


But two years on, there have been zero indictments. Israel has not examined even a single case in accordance with the international standards of investigation: independence, impartiality, effectiveness, promptness and transparency.


In one of the most infamous such killings of the 2014 war, an Israeli rocket attack killed four children of the Bakr family – Ahed (10 years), Zakaria (10 years), Mohammed (11 years) and Ismail (10 years) – while they were playing soccer on the Gaza City beach. In June 2015, the Israeli army announced the closure of the investigation into the killing of the children.


Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza and Adalah, which had submitted an urgent letter to the Military Advocate General (MAG) demanding an immediate, independent investigation into suspected war crimes following the killings, subsequently condemned the Israeli army's closure of the investigation.


The Israeli military similarly chose to close the file without opening a criminal investigation into the drone missile attack at the entrance of the UNRWA school in Rafah during the 2014 military offensive in Gaza that killed two people on a motorbike, the targets of the shelling, and 12 other Palestinian civilians near the school.


Adalah and Al Mezan said the MAG’s decision demonstrates impunity masquerading as due process.


The sentencing of Sgt. Azaria is set to take place at a later date and past experience has shown that, barring a limited number of cases, the military justice system routinely fails to sentence soldiers commensurate with the gravity of the offences with which they have been convicted.


Adalah stresses that, with the trial and conviction of Azaria, Israel seeks to create the public perception that violations or crimes by soldiers are met with investigations, trials, and convictions. However, as Israel's track record indicates, this is very much the exception to the rule.


(Video grab courtesy of B’tselem)




REPORT: Extra-judicial executions of Palestinians by Israeli police and security forces


REPORT: Gaza Two Years On: 27 cases of suspected war crimes, 0 indictments