On March 24, 2016, in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron, one Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, an Arab terrorist who had just stabbed an Israeli soldier, was shot and “neutralized” by the IDF force on the ground. Then, 11 minutes later, he was shot dead by Sergeant Elor Azaria. Azaria was arrested and tried in a legal affair that pitted left and right in Israel the way few others have done, with the IDF brass turning on one of its own. Azaria was sentenced to 18 months in prison and demoted to private. He was released from prison after serving 9 months.
“I’m completely at peace with myself. I did the right thing, I followed my truth, and there was no need for any of what happened,” Elor Azaria tells Israel Hayom in an interview to be published in the newspaper’s weekend supplement.
“I have no regrets,” Azaria stresses, “There’s no doubt in my mind. Take me back to those seconds in the incident in Hebron – I’d be doing exactly the same thing. Because that was the proper way to act.”
When he was taken for interrogation about ten hours after the incident, “the female interrogator sat opposite me and said to me, ‘Listen, you are accused of murdering a Palestinian.’ I was shocked. I said, ‘What murder? What do you mean murder? What’s wrong with you? And what Palestinian? It’s a terrorist….'”
“The head of the investigation team also had a hard time hearing my side of the story. Later, I understood that they wanted to follow what the senior officials in the system had already told the media,” Azaria says.
“I was interrogated at 6:00 or 6:30 PM, and two hours earlier Bogey Ya’alon, the defense minister – the former defense minister, thank God – issued a statement condemning me to the media, as did the chief of staff, supposedly after a Military Police investigation and an operational debriefing,” Azaria recalls, asking, “Where is the logic in that, if I was interrogated only two hours later? Let the people decide who is lying.”
“The IDF Spokesperson issued a statement even before my interrogation, that the chief of staff views my actions seriously,” he adds, surmising, “Nothing would have happened if everything had been done straight. If they had not done a miscarriage of justice, and if all sorts of senior officials had not opened their mouths to say nonsense.”
“They tried to reach an agreement with me, that I should express remorse and admit it. I said, no way,” Azaria says. “I have nothing to regret. No one can argue against the judgment of a combatant in an operational arena in hostile territory. I do not confess and I do not express remorse, and I know that I acted properly, and in a just trial I would have been completely exonerated, and quite a few people would have had to lower their gaze.”
“In the appeal hearing, we showed how corrupt the process had been,” Azaria argues. “Subversion of witnesses, distortion of facts. The most central testimony, by my company commander, was disqualified. And they still convicted me.”
“What happened here is that they abandoned a soldier, so the Palestinians would not get up to have one of their days of rage,” he says. “Like the Palestinians have a shortage of days of rage.”