Two years after fatally shooting a subdued terrorist during a 2016 security incident in Hebron in an incident that created a political firestorm in Israel, former IDF soldier Elor Azaria asserts he did the right thing.
In an exclusive interview with Israel Hayom, Azaria, 21, who was convicted of manslaughter and conduct unbecoming, insisted that he has no regrets and said he was simply doing his job.
Azaria was released from prison three months ago after serving nine months of his 14-month sentence. He was also demoted from sergeant to private and has since been discharged from military service.
Azaria’s trial and subsequent conviction sparked a heated public debate that all but split the country in half.
Many were outraged by the conviction, arguing that Azaria was a hero who did the right thing by taking the fight to the enemy, while others said his decision to shoot an injured and incapacitated terrorist who was probably no longer a threat was a stain on Israel’s military.
“I am at peace with what I did, I acted properly and followed my inner truth. I did the right thing and this affair shouldn’t have become what it did,” Azaria told Israel Hayom.
“I have no remorse whatsoever,” he stressed.
“No second-guessing at all. There is no doubt that if you took me back to those seconds in Hebron, when the event was unfolding, I would act exactly the same all over again because that is what had to be done.”
During the interview, Azaria said he was moved by the love the Israeli public showed him.
“It is definitely heartwarming. The Israeli people have become one, they stood by us throughout the entire ordeal, and I would like to thank them for the help they provided me and my family at any given moment. This is far from obvious. There are simply no other people like the Israeli people,” he said.
He said the affair has not undermined his sense of patriotism.
“I will always love my country and the IDF,” Azaria said, noting that despite his trial and conviction he intends to carry out military reserve duty.
Recalling the day he shot terrorist Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, he said: “I saw him with a heavy black coat and I could hear people shouting, ‘Someone shoot him.’ There was a knife just next to him. I was there on site, I saw that the knife was there.”
Azaria said he was sure the terrorist was carrying an explosive device.
“I acted on my instincts in the spur of the moment – it all culminated into that point and I acted in full accordance with what I was trained to do from the moment I became a combat soldier,” he said.
“I cocked my weapon, I told the company and platoon commanders to move away and I shot him in the head, and that was the end of it. Just one shot.”
Explaining the rationale behind the shot, he said the terrorist’s head “was the only body part that was exposed, and I was taught in my medics course that when the head is hurt, the rest of the body is hurt.”
Speaking about his questioning following the incident, Azaria said, “I was told by the interrogator, ‘You are going to be charged with murdering a Palestinian.’ I was shocked and answered, ‘What murder? What’s wrong with you? What Palestinian? He’s a terrorist.’ Even the chief interrogator couldn’t come to terms with the truth I was saying. Later I realized that they were trying to fall in line with what the senior military officials had already told the press.”
Q: What do you mean?
“I was interrogated at 6 or 6.30 p.m. and two hours earlier Moshe Ya’alon, who was the defense minister at the time – and thank God is no longer in this position – issued a condemnation, as did the [IDF] chief of staff. Their statements gave the impression that the Military Police had already interrogated me and conducted a full debriefing,” he said.
“Where is the logic in all this, if I was only interrogated two hours later? Let the people decide who is lying. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit issued a statement before I was even questioned saying that the chief of staff considers the case to be severe. Things would have been just fine had procedures being followed, had there been no miscarriage of justice and had senior officials kept silent rather than speak nonsense. I am still baffled by their behavior.”
Azaria says the heavy criticism had no effect on him.
“I know I did what I was supposed to do, and there is nothing anyone can do to change my mind. That’s why I appealed,” he said.
“Despite people trying to dissuade me, I didn’t give up. There is only one truth and I was going to go with it to the very end, with my head held high.
“People tried to make me settle [the case], make me express remorse and confess, but I insisted that I would not admit to anything. I have nothing to be sorry for. No one can get into the head of a combat soldier who is on active duty in hostile territory. I said I wasn’t going to confess [to the charges] and wasn’t going to express remorse, and I know that I acted appropriately. If I had had a fair trial I would have been fully acquitted and a lot of people would have had to lower their gaze.”
Azaria insists that the military judicial system was skewed against him.
“During the appeal, we demonstrated how much obstruction there was during the legal proceedings, how the outcome was predetermined, how the witnesses were tampered with and how the facts were distorted,” Azaria said.
“The key testimony, provided by my company commander, was deemed inadmissible, but the court still convicted me. An IDF soldier was thrown under the bus just so the Palestinians wouldn’t launch a day of rage, as Ya’alon explained, even though the Palestinians have enough days of rage.”
In response to Azaria’s accusations in this interview, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit issued a statement saying, “These claims were raised by Azaria’s defense during the trial and in two court instances. Azaria was convicted of a major crime, manslaughter, and the verdict speaks for itself.”
The full interview will be published on Friday in Israel Hayom’s weekend magazine.