The trial of Sergeant Elor Azaria, the Kfir Brigade soldier who shot dead an already-neutralized terrorist in Hebron last March, began Monday morning at the Jaffa Military Court, with the accused being read his indictment.
"The soldier took several steps towards the terrorists, aimed at his head and fired a single bullet from short range. This the defendant did in contravention of the rules of engagement and without operational justification," the indictment said. It said the Palestinian, Abdel-Fattah al-Sharif, "did not present a clear and present threat" and that "the defendant caused the death of the terrorist al-Sharif illegally."
Azaria was charged with manslaughter and inpporpriate military conduct last month at the Jaffa Military Court. Military prosecutors said that with no proof of premeditation, they had opted to indict Azaria for manslaughter instead of murder. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
The president of Jaffa Military Court, Colonel Maya Heller, military judge Lt. Col. Carmel Wahabi and Judge Lt. Col. Yogev Yifrach, urged the sides to seek a plea bargain over the next week.
Heller also rejected Azaria's request to be allowed out of detention to celebrate Independence Day.
The incident occurred on March 24, when two terrorists armed with knives stabbed a soldier, moderately wounding him, at an IDF post near the Tel Rumeida neighborhood in Hebron. One of the terrorists was shot dead, but the second, Abed al Fatah a-Sharif, was neutralized and lay wounded on the ground.
A video filmed several minutes later by B'Tselem shows Azaria shooting the neutralized terrorist in the head. An autopsy, attended by both an Israeli and a Palestinian pathologist, showed it was Azaria's bullet that killed him.
Azaria, a conscript medic, is the first active duty Israeli soldier to face criminal proceedings over the alleged illegal use of lethal force since the violence erupted in October.
But with the IDF chief urging soldiers to use only "measured and considered force" in dealing with attackers, an opinion poll found that 57 percent of Israelis believe Azaria should never have been arrested.
Two months ago, after far-right ministers in his governing coalition cautioned against what they dismissed as a show trial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the unusual step of telephoning the conscript's father to say "I understand your distress" and promising his son would be treated fairly.
"The truth will come out. The path will be long. We will endure," said defense lawyer Binyamin Malka. The soldier's defense team has said he acted appropriately and that it is seeking full acquittal.
According to the military, Azaria told investigators he believed the Palestinian, though subdued, may have had a suicide explosive belt and that he still posed a danger.
Prosecutor Lt.-Col. Adoram Rigler said at the court hearing last April that "the terrorist who was shot by the soldier did not pose a risk to him or to anyone around him. There is a strong evidentiary basis to prove the indictment."
The defense, meanwhile, claimed that “The testimony and evidence ruled out a vengeful motive for the shooting. The pathologist said she cannot rule out that the terrorist might have moved his hands.”
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.