Photo: Motti Kimchi
Former senior IDF official: ‘Azaria acted according to the rules’
Former Deputy Chief of Staff Uzi Dayan says Sgt. Azaria was ‘judged on Facebook. His right to innocence was mowed down;’ second senior witness slams prosecutor for creating a climate in which ‘every soldier would have to go to battle with a lawyer. You are castrating the army.’
The trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria—who was indicted for manslaughter after he was captured on camera shooting an already neutralized Palestinian terrorist, Abed al Fatah al-Sharif, in Hebron—continued Monday afternoon at a special military court in Jaffa.
Two IDF reserve generals—former Deputy Chief of Staff Uzi Dayan and head of the IDF Technological and Logistics Directorate Ret. Maj. Gen. Dan Biton—provided testimony for the defense team in which they propounded that Azaria’s actions were justified.
Only moments elapsed before an argument broke out between Dayan—who took to the witness stand first—and Prosecutor Lt. Col. Nadav Weisman and defense attorney Illan Katz.
Sgt. Elor Azaria shoots neutralized terrorist (צילום: עימאד אבו שמסייה. מתנדב בצלם בחברון)
Dayan, the most senior officer to have testified in the trial thus far, began by calling into question the expertise and experience of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), stating that it was unfit to investigate such trials.
“The CID doesn’t have, in my opinion, the experience or the authority to investigate operational incidents,” said Dayan, triggering an instant rebuttal from Weisman who cited questionable instances investigated by the CID which occurred under his command.
The reference prompted attorney Katz to thump the table and shout, “Dayan in not a criminal,” before Dayan himself said, “I have just as much experience as you in security incidents.”
After a series of back-and-forths, the focus returned to Azaria. “I am sufficiently knowledgeable on the criminal law to wonder about his guilt. If we are talking about malice, then there needs to be a murder indictment,” said Dayan. “Manslaughter is... unclear. I don’t know whether Azaria did wrong or not. His right to innocence has been mowed down. He was judged on Facebook. I submitted my opinion and concerns about the influence of this on soldiers in the field. Every day of the trial damages the IDF and influences soldiers.”
At one point during his testimony, Dayan grew impatient with the prosecutor’s questions. “I have given orders to kill terrorists with no connection to the question in the same moment about whether there was danger. Terrorists need to die. The fate of terrorists is to die. Even if you don’t know whether the person is a terrorist or not, you have an obligation to protect your life and that of others,” Dayan exclaimed.
At the end of the investigation, a number of questions were put before Dayan, who offered his take on the rules of engagement.
“The rules of engagement do not outweigh the mission or the orders received in the field. If the objective is to kill a terrorist in a cab in Gaza, I don’t operate according to the rules of engagement. If you are walking at night in Hebron and identify a terrorist carrying a weapon ... as a rule, you have to kill them. If you just report it instead, then he will be able to carry out an attack. He might be carrying a guitar and not a Kalashnikov, in which case the level of experience one has is extremely important. When it comes to terrorists, let their blood be on their own responsibility. It's a good result if they're dead."
Dan Biton then provided his testimony offering his expert opinion for the defense. Prosecutor Weisman immediately set about taking Biton to task for the fact that his opinion was almost identical to that of Brig. Gen. Shmuel Zakai, who was discharged from the army 12 years ago after then Chief-of-Staff Ya’alon accused him of leaking military information to the political echelon. Biton responded, “That is reasonable in my view.”
“He didn’t know if there was an explosive device on the terrorist or not. A quick movement by the terrorist is enough to (justify) shooting even if no other commander or soldier senses danger as determined by the instructions of the Operations Directorate. You are a military court and you are obliged to stick to military orders. It isn’t black or white. Because of you, the prosecutor, every military operation—even during war—will be put on trial, and that should not be the case.” said Biton.
He went on to accuse the commanders of shirking responsibility. “The commanders escaped from the their responsibility. Azaria did not participate in the military investigation. The commanders ran straight to the courts. You can’t latch on to things said by a soldier a minute or an hour after the shooting. It isn’t important what a 19-year-old soldier says when he is agitated,” Biton said.
“The feeling that you are in life-threatening danger at the scene and the pressure makes you act. I was in situations like that. If the soldier killed for no reason then he should sit in prison. In this instance I disagree with the prosecutor who is (creating a climate in which) every soldier would have to go to battle with a lawyer,” Biton concluded before leveling the accusation at Weisman, “You are castrating the army.”
After weeks of absence from the court proceedings due to a stroke, Sgt. Azaria’s father, Charlie Azaria, who was supported by those around him, arrived at the trial. Charlie hugged his son and cried during the court proceedings. At the session’s conclusion, Charlie hugged General Bitton and said, “I rise and I salute the generals who come here. We are a strong family and we will not be broken.”