Witness defending Sgt. Elor Azaria: 'They tried putting words in my mouth.'
After more than a month, Sgt. Elor Azaria's defense team begin summoning key witnesses as proceedings continue; First witness accuses former defense minister of twisting his words to Azaria's detriment; 'It was a lie and false. I never said Azaria's actions were wrong...There are many incidents when terrorists are shot in the head by soldiers to make sure they pose no further threat and they are not brought to trial.'
Azaria’s attorneys began calling witnesses to the dock to corroborate Azaria’s claims thus far justifying his actions—namely that he fired out of fear of a bona fide threat posed by the terrorist.
Lt. Col. (res.) Eliyahu Liebman, who has served as the Chief Security Officer in Hebron for the last 22 years and has been the recipient of a medal of honor from former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, was the first to be called to the witness box.
After stating his credentials, Libeman said, "There was an atmosphere where they tried putting words into my mouth in order to get the story straight." He then cited an example involving former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (who still occupied the position during the incident) and attempted to debunk his alleged claims shortly after the incident that even he, (Liebman) had expressed his disapproval of Azaria’s actions.
“A few days after the incident I received a phone call from Ya’alon’s people in the Defense Ministry who spoke to me about what happened,” Liebman said. “At the end of the conversation (he told me) that Ya’alon told him that even the Chief Security Officer of Hebron thinks the shooting was not right. I clarified for the worker that that was a lie and was false. It was precisely the opposite. Ya’alon, I said, could contact me directly to clarify the matter but to this day he has not done so.”
Liebman claimed that the case was heavily influenced in the military ranks by the statements made Ya’alon condemning Azaria’s actions. “The second a defense minister speaks in this way, everybody in the army automatically falls into line. No one would dare to say otherwise. In my 27 years in service I have never seen any company or platoon commander express disagreement with the defense minister the moment he states his clear position in the media. It created an abnormal feeling among soldiers and commanders.”
Addressing the incident itself, Liebman said, “I arrived at the scene within minutes. There was an uncomfortable atmosphere that you could not say anything which differed from the version that they tried to create for the security services and the media...There was an atmosphere that you would be criticized if you held an opinion which conflicted with the agenda.”
Liebman added that, contrary to the impression given in the media, Elor's actions were actually standard practice: “As the Chief Security Officer in Hebron I did not instruct IDF soldiers on the procedures of opening fire but during incidents involving terrorists at which I was present, I saw with my own eyes that in every incident in which the terrorist attacked, the soldiers shot him in the chest until he was neutralized and then in the head to make sure the terrorist could not detonate a bomb. Those soldiers were never put put on trial,” he pointed out.
The witness then highlighted the fact that the terrorist was wearing a puffer jacket which could easily have been a bomb: “The terrorists was wearing a puffer jacket on a hot day and anyone who has experience knows that the coat is not just full of air but that there is a good chance that it is a bomb," he said.
He then drew the court's attention to the word “neutralized," saying that it was the cause of much confusion: “A ‘neutralized terrorist’ means: either he attempted to carry out an attack and was shot in the chest and killed and then shot in the head to make sure - as is taught in the IDF according to the rules of opening fire - or it means that the terrorist was checked by a sapper and was cuffed by the hands and feet.” In this case, Liebman concluded, “the terrorist was not professionally checked by the sapper and that endangered those who carried him.”
"There were two soldiers who did not act professionally during the incident. The terrorists were checked by them from close range,” continued Liebman. “If there was a medical team tending to the terrorist at the time of the incident, no one would have shot him.”
Liebman then turned to testimony against Azaria previously provided by Maj.Tom Na’aman, the latter's company commander: “We are indebted to Maj. Tom Na’aman for security in the area. "He is a good and appreciated individual but his statements were outrageous and ungrateful. To say the things he said about emergency medical teams in Hebron who risk their lives is ungrateful. I spoke to the company commander a day after the incident and it seemed that it had a profound effect on him personally,” he said before concluding, "The company commander failed in this instance."
Liebman also attempted to refute the testimony provided by Former Yehuda Brigade commander, Col. Yariv Ben-Ezra in june against Azaria. After furnishing praise on him for his service and contribution to preventing terror attacks, Liebman said “but he has also failed many times in his conduct in the area. Many Jews have been killed in the area. I cannot remain silent when these commanders, despite all their dedication, forsake an IDF soldier in the situation that has developed.”