An Israeli soldier who shot dead a wounded Palestinian in an execution-style killing that a court deemed revenge was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in jail for manslaughter, sparking outrage among Palestinians and rights groups over Israel’s lenient treatment of soldiers’ excessive use of force in occupied Palestinian territories.
Israeli Sergeant Elor Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter last month for putting a bullet in the head of Palestinian man Abed Fatah Sharif as he was bleeding on the ground. Sharif had been gunned down and incapacitated by Israeli soldiers after carrying out a stabbing attack at a military checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Eleven minutes after Sharif was injured and unable to pose a threat to the soldiers, Azaria shot him dead at close range. The incident was captured on video by a Palestinian activist working with the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
Judge Maya Heller, who handed down the sentence Tuesday in Tel Aviv, said Azaria has not expressed remorse for the killing.
Azaria’s conviction carried a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail. But the case also spurred a right-wing backlash in Israel, with several staunchly conservative politicians calling for the 20-year-old defendant to be pardoned.
The defense is expected to file an appeal to attempt to block the sentence, scheduled to begin March 5, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.
Although Sharif’s family had demanded a life sentence for Azaria and criticized the legal process as a “show trial” to draw attention away from the larger problem of systemic impunity for Israeli abuses and extrajudicial killings of Palestinians, they also said they were not surprised by the court’s lenient treatment.
"We are not surprised, from the onset we knew this was a show trial that will not do us justice,” said family members in response to the sentencing, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “The sentence he received is less than a Palestinian child gets for throwing stones.”
Members of the Palestine Liberation Organization also slammed the light 18-month sentence.
“This sentencing demonstrates the active devaluation of human life, especially the lives of Palestinians that have been oppressed and held captive by an Israeli occupation for far too long,” said PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi in a statement, adding that the case demonstrates that the Israeli justice system for being corrupted by “systemic racism, injustice and the culture of hate.”
Sharif’s family has previously announced plans to take the case to the International Criminal Court.
Israel has been criticized by several human rights bodies and even the United Nations for its systematic extrajudicial killings of alleged attackers, who only had knives for weapons and whose threat could have been neutralized without using deadly force.
A recent report from the Palestinian Ma'an news agency found that more than 111 Palestinian were killed in 2016, almost all of them at the hands of Israeli forces. According to the report, 34 of the Palestinians killed, or 30.6 percent, were from the Hebron district where Azaria shot Sharif dead in March.