The Jaffa Military Court heard on Monday the indictment against Sergeant Elor Azarya who is charged with manslaughter and inappropriate behavior, and the court President, Colonel Maya Heller, suggested the prosecution and the defense seek mediation. The prosecution objected. Still, the court gave the two sides until the end of the week to consider this option.
Common sense suggests that if the court gives the two sides this opening to bargain the case down from manslaughter—a felony, to misdemeanor, it is because the court does not believe the prosecution is able to prove a felony and would like to spare them the embarrassment. But the prosecution is going for broke, and has even conscripted a top attorney, Nadav Weissman, “one of the most talented litigators involved today in many of the highest profile litigation cases in Israel,” to take down the young medic.
Azarya’s attorneys are also reluctant to cop a plea, because they believe the prosecution’s own files contain all the evidence they need to acquit their client.
Incidentally, the conscripted attorney has complained through his attorneys about the prosecution’s shoddy job of preparing the evidence in the case, and they also noted for the record that they can point to precedence where the most the accused soldier received was disciplinary action.
Indeed, disciplinary action was all the medic Azarya’s commanding officers were going to do, if that, until they got the call from the defense ministry about the B’Tselem video which supposedly proves hands down that the killing of the terrorist was an act of murder.
The defendant’s attorneys are accusing the army of running a show trial for the benefit of the political echelon, namely Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, not the most popular man in most Israeli households these days, most notably in his own Likud party. The majority of Israelis in several recent polls believe there should have been no prosecution at all in the case.
Much of the prosecution’s case hinges on the state of mind of the accused during the shooting, namely how much he knew about the neutralizing of the terrorist and the verification that followed his neutralizing. Since he arrived some ten minutes after the incident, the fact that the verification process had been proper may not matter if the defense can establish that the accused was not aware of it, and estimated the terrorist to still be dangerous.
The case will also revolve around the application of the rules of engagement in cases where a suicide bomb is suspected. The prosecution will bring witnesses who will tell the court there hadn’t been any suicide bombers in the entire six months of a terror wave leading up to the shooting. But that may not matter in establishing the state of mind of the accused or the validity of the rules of engagement that include an expectation of a suicide bomb.