Former brigade commander: Hebron shooting was unjustified
Col. Yariv Ben-Ezra, who asked to testify in Sgt. Elor Azaria's trial only after finishing his tenure, says he received no warnings of a possible explosive belt on the terrorist; 'No one approached me on the scene and warned me of a suspected bomb .'
Azaria is being tried on manslaughter charges after shooting dead a neutralized Palestinian terrorist, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in Hebron, after al-Sharif and another terrorist attacked IDF soldiers with knives, stabbing one.
"The shooting was unjustified because it happened in a situation in which there was no mortal danger," Col. Ben-Ezra said. "The more I watched the videos (from the incident), the more I saw it, when considering the behavior of the people on the scene, the discourse and the investigations we conducted."
Testifying at Azaria's trial, the former brigade commander said he has received no warning of a suspected explosive belt on the terrorist. "No one approached me on the scene and warned me of a suspected bomb ... I only heard about it in the afternoon (of that day) from the media," he said.
Col. Ben-Ezra, the most senior officer to testify in the trial so far, finished his tenure as the Yehuda Brigade commander on Tuesday. He asked to testify only after stepping down from his position.
"Yoni Blaicher, the security officer for the Jewish settlement in Hebron, came up to me and told me there was a problematic shooting incident that I should look into. He told me that after (the attack on the soldiers) had ended, there was shooting done and it was unclear why," Col. Ben-Ezra recounted.
"I called the Shimshon battalion commander, Lt.-Col. David Shapira, and asked him to check Yoni's report. A minute and a half later, he came back and told me this was a very serious incident."
Ben-Ezra went on to say he instructed the forces to treat and evacuate the wounded quickly and then remove the bodies from the scene as fast as possible.
"A terrorist called Hadeel al-Hashlamoun, who carried out a stabbing attack at the Shoter checkpoint in Hebron, became a legend (on the Palestinian street). We noticed that the long time that her body remained at the scene, while being filmed and photographed, created an entire wave of revenge and solidarity attacks—not just in Hebron, but all over the West Bank," Ben-Ezra said.
"From one incident to the next, we got a better understanding, and in light of the lessons we learned and the investigations we conducted, we realized that as soon as there is an attack in a crowded urban area, which is flooded with cameras on both sides, we must clear the scene as fast as possible, to prevent revenge and solidarity attacks. That is how we trained the soldiers."
He went on to say that "these weren't just personal insights I had, all of the brigade commanders knew it: Graphic images coming out of terror attacks lead to serious attacks and an atmosphere of revenge on the Palestinian street."
When pressed by Azaria's lawyer, Eyal Beserglick, who said there were people on the scene who testified they felt in danger, the former brigade commander insisted, "I'm more than convinced that had people on the scene felt in danger, things would have looked different. In the first two hours after the terror attack, it was my professional understanding that there was no mortal danger."
Col. Ben-Ezra added that, "there is definitely support to what I'm asking, as we've conducted a military investigation on the scene with the people who were there."