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Israeli army prosecution files appeal for harsher sentence for Elor Azarya

March 7, 2017 4:37 P.M. (Updated: March 8, 2017 11:29 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Days after the defense team for Elor Azarya appealed his manslaughter conviction for the fatal shooting of a wounded Palestinian, the Israeli general prosecution submitted their own appeal on Tuesday, demanding a harsher sentence for the Israeli soldier who was sentenced to just 18 months in prison for the killing.

Azarya was filmed committing the execution-style shooting of 21-year-old Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron last year.

Israeli media reported that the prosecution petitioned the Israeli military appeals court to increase the sentence to between 30 and 60 months -- two-and-a-half to five years -- in prison, from the 18-month sentence handed down last month, amid widespread outrage over its leniency.

Even prior to the sentencing, the case had already been denounced as a “show trial” for focusing on the case to distract from a wider culture of impunity for Israeli forces, as Azarya was charged with manslaughter for what was termed by rights groups as an “extrajudicial execution” and by the victim’s family as “cold-blooded murder.”

Following the announcement of the 18-month sentence, the al-Sharif family said they were "not surprised" -- noting that the soldier received less prison time than a Palestinian child would for throwing stones. They have meanwhile vowed to take the case to the International Criminal Court.

According to reports, the argument behind for the prosecution's appeal was that Azarya’s sentence was not congruent with the ruling of the judges, who had given a detailed refutation of nearly every claim made by the defense team when they convicted him, and accepted the prosecution’s argument that the soldier committed an unjustified revenge killing for the Palestinian’s alleged attempted attack.

Meanwhile, last week, the Israeli military court granted Azarya’s request to postpone the beginning of his sentence -- set to begin on March 5 -- until a ruling was made on the appeal filed by his defense against the conviction.

Three of Azarya's four lawyers resigned from his legal team on Wednesday before the one remaining attorney filed the appeal.

“Eighty percent of the Zionist nation wants the immediate release of the appellant... the soldier, the son of all of us, from prison to freedom,” the appeal reportedly read, referring to widespread support among the Israeli public who view Azarya as a national hero rather than relying on a legal framework to justify the appeal.

While the majority of Israeli politicians favor a presidential pardon for the soldier, Azarya cannot seek a pardon until he exhausts his rights to appeal, starting with the military appeals court and possibly going up to the Israeli Supreme Court, according to Israeli media.

Azarya is the only member of Israeli forces to be charged with killing a Palestinian in 2016 -- when at least 109 Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli forces and settlers -- according to Human Rights Watch.

According to rights group Yesh Din, of the 186 criminal investigations opened by the Israeli army into suspected offenses against Palestinians in 2015, just four yielded indictments.

Meanwhile, a report released by Human Rights Watch days before Azarya was convicted 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.”

HRW noted that Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy has received widespread support among Israeli citizens, citing a 2016 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute which 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.”
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