Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, the former Commander of the IDF Gaza Division, testified for the defense on Tuesday in the trial of Elor Azaria, the medic charged with manslaughter for killing an already neutralized terrorist, and generally backed the defendant’s version of the event, Walla reported.
“The way Azaria was documented in the videos shows that he shot because he was under danger,” Zakai said, noting that “shooting needlessly, just to kill, is forbidden and I object to it wholeheartedly.” He argued that “when the defendant claimed that he carried out the shooting of the terrorist because he thought he was carrying an explosive charge on his person, it was a reasonable cause, under the circumstances, to open fire.”
When asked in cross examination to describe Azaria’s shooting, Zakai testified, “I’ve seen in my life people who shot just to kill. To my delight, none of them were IDF soldiers. Azaria looked like someone who was shooting for a reason.”
Zakai criticized Hebron Brigade Commander Colonel Yariv Ben-Ezra for using the term “Threat Reference” in relation to the event, suggesting it comes from the realm of security and is not a military term. “It’s unreasonable that a commander would determine for his soldier an enemy’s activity in terms of a threat reference,” the former Division Commander said, adding it was “an operational and professional mistake.” He also testified that his understanding, from reading the testimonies of the company commander, battalion commander and brigade commander, that the division commander had restricted the rules of engagement “out of concern that a shooting might lead to numerous casualties, which would add fuel to the flames of incitement.”
In other words, by handing down politically driven rules of engagement, according to Zakai, the brigade commander exposed his soldiers to needless risks on the ground when faced with violent attacks, such as the March 24, 2016 stabbing.
Zakai’s testimony is the latest in similar professional views presented by the defense to suggest the scene of the Hebron event was chaotic and that Azaria did his best in a badly managed IDF operation.