World, Middle East

'Manslaughter' charge against soldier irks Palestinians

Charge of 'manslaughter' brought against Israeli soldier who killed Palestinian further erodes Palestinian faith in Israeli court system

19.04.2016
'Manslaughter' charge against soldier irks Palestinians Israeli soldiers inspect the crime scene after a Palestinian man who allegedly attack an Israeli soldier with an ax, was shot and killed by Israeli security forces near Al-Arroub refugee camp in Hebron. ( Wisam Hashlamoun - Anadolu Agency )

By Kaamil Ahmed

JERUSALEM

A "manslaughter" charge brought against an Israeli soldier who killed an unarmed Palestinian after an alleged knife attack has further eroded Palestinians' faith in the Israeli legal system, analysts and human rights experts said Tuesday.

On Monday, Elor Azaria, 20, was indicted by an Israeli military court for acting without "operational justification" when he shot Abdel-Fattah al-Sharif, 21, in the West Bank city of Hebron (Al-Khalil) in an incident captured on video and published by Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.

Prosecutors had already decided in March not to pursue a murder charge against Azaria.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, defended the decision on Tuesday amid criticism from right-wing Israelis who believe the soldier should not be investigated at all.

"I am convinced that the court will consider all circumstances regarding the incident. Our soldiers are not murderers -- they act against murderers," Netanyahu said. "I hope that a way will be found to balance between the action and the overall context of the event."

Political analyst Alaa Tartir from the Palestinian think-tank Al-Shabaka said the manslaughter charge brought against Azaria illustrated how the Israeli judicial system and military establishment "work in harmony".

"It is evident from the B’Tselem video that this is a clear case of murder, as also testified [to] by international human rights organizations and, ironically, by the statements of the soldier himself," said Tartir.

"[This incident] offers a message to the international community that effective and legitimate accountability mechanisms are urgently needed, as well as a message to the Palestinian Authority’s leadership that the Palestinian people need protection, not security collaboration with the occupier [i.e., Israel]," he said.

Ahead of the indictment, Israeli human rights group Yesh Din published figures showing that out of 262 investigations of Israeli soldiers since the eruption of the Second Intifada in 2000, only 16 had led to indictments by military courts.

According to the same data, the only conviction for manslaughter was for the killing of a British activist, while there were four other convictions for negligent homicide.

"It raises quite a few questions that from over 200 cases only 22 soldiers over the last 16 years… have been indicted in these fatality cases -- and only one of these was a homicide, and even then it wasn't a Palestinian fatality," a Yesh Din spokesman said before Azaria's indictment.

The spokesman went on to ask: "Are they really interested in indicting soldiers for correct charges?"

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