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Palestinian Foreign Ministry calls Elor Azarya conviction a 'show trial'

Jan. 4, 2017 3:36 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 5, 2017 2:57 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- After an Israeli soldier was found guilty of manslaughter for the execution-style killing of a Palestinian -- a video of which garnered widespread outrage from the international community -- the Palestinian Foreign Ministry called the case a “show trial,” handing down a lenient sentence on the soldier, while focusing on the case to distract from a wider culture of impunity for Israeli forces.

Shortly after the verdict for 20-year-old Elor Azarya was announced on Wednesday afternoon, the ministry said that since the video went viral the day of the killing back in March, “the Israeli government and its political, judicial, and military arms have been trying to attract international reactions to this hideous crime through the farce of detaining and trying the killer soldier."

"Except for some voices who have tried to defend the alleged Israeli army's code of ethics, the majority of Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and several of his ministers, have embarked upon defending the murderer Azarya."

While the Israeli military court gave a wholesale endorsement of the prosecution’s argument that the killing of 21-year-old Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif in Hebron was unjustified in its decision to convict Azarya -- supported by the blistering testimonies given by his army commanders -- Azarya has garnered mass support from Israel’s far-right citizens and government, who have labeled the soldier a national hero.

A 2016 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 47 percent of Jewish Israelis supported the sentiment that “any Palestinian who carries out a terror attack against Jews should be killed on the spot, even if he has been captured and clearly does not pose a threat.”

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry's statement added that "several Israeli organizations and extremist settler groups dedicated efforts to fundraise for a campaign to defend the killer soldier and acquit him."

The statement also highlighted that several "extremist rabbis issued religious opinions legalizing what Azarya did."

A report released this week by Human Rights Watch documented documented “numerous statements” made by senior Israeli politicians and religious figures “calling on police and soldiers to shoot to kill suspected attackers, irrespective of whether lethal force is actually strictly necessary to protect life.”

"Today we are watching the last chapter of the killer soldier's trial, defined by a familial atmosphere in the court, with the killer entering the hall laughing before he took a seat near his relatives," the Foreign Ministry statement continued.

Videos published in Israeli media show Azarya being met with applause as he entered the session, which was attended by members of his family who embraced the smiling soldier.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry described the court atmosphere as clear evidence that the case was not being taken seriously, and that the crime was in fact being addressed “recklessly."

Manslaughter charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, and Azarya can appeal both the conviction and the sentence to the Israeli Military appeals court.

However, according to Israeli daily Haaretz, it is likely the sentence will not come close to the 20-year maximum, based on research showing precedent for Israeli soldiers who have been indicted and tried for manslaughter in a number of cases since 2000, the majority of whom were not convicted and accepted a plea bargain instead.

A court reporter for Israel’s The Jerusalem Post said that the judge’s “one-sided” conviction made the decision more vulnerable to appeal, as judges had not expressed any sympathy to the defense’s argument.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin may also face a request to pardon him, according to reports. Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett has already stated that Azarya should be granted an immediate pardon. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has also reportedly not ruled out the possibility of a pardon in private discussion, however on Wednesday he said the verdict had to be respected, though expressed his displeasure with the conviction.
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