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Soldier's Manslaughter Conviction Polarizes Israeli Society

By VOA News, DEBKAfile & IsraelNationalNews.com

An Israeli military court convicted a young soldier of manslaughter Wednesday for shooting and killing a wounded and allegedly helpless Palestinian terrorist last year in the West Bank.

The verdict was the culmination of a turbulent series of events that captivated and divided the nation. In a rare move, the army condemned a soldier's actions during a Palestinian attack; while much of the public was appalled that a young Israeli fighting terrorism in the field was hauled into court like a common criminal. "The fact that the man on the ground was a terrorist does not justify a disproportionate response," said Colonel Maya Heller, who delivered the verdict.

The drama began nine months ago in the West Bank town of Hebron during a wave of attacks that Palestinians had dubbed "The Intifada [Uprising] of the Knives." A Palestinian had stabbed a soldier and was "neutralized" by Israeli forces, lying immobile on the ground.

Then, a cellphone video caught 19-year-old Sergeant Elor Azaria aiming his assault rifle at the attacker and shooting him in the head. The soldier claimed that he feared the Palestinian was booby-trapped with a bomb, but commanders quickly disputed that, saying the attacker posed no threat and Azaria had violated the army's code of moral conduct. That account was backed up by the court.

After the verdict, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu posted a Facebook statement saying he would like to see a pardon for Azaria. "We have one army that is the basis for our existence," Netanyahu wrote. "IDF soldiers are our sons and daughters, and they must remain above all disputes. I purport granting a pardon to Elor Azaria."

"This is a difficult and painful day for all of us - first and foremost for Elor and his family, for the soldiers of the IDF, for the citizens, and for the parents of soldiers, including myself." Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page. ''I call on all Israeli citizens to act responsibly toward the IDF, its commanders and staff. We have one army which our existence is dependent upon."

President Reuven Rivlin is the only one who can make that decision. His office says the president wants the judicial process, including any appeals, to play itself out before he considers a pardon.

Many Israelis are furious over what they see as a false sense of moral equivalence. They say soldiers are being put on trial in order to protect terrorists. It's a serious rift, because traditionally the army has been a strong source of unity in a country with deep political, religious and cultural divisions between left and right, hawks and doves, religious and secular, and European and Middle Eastern Jewry.

A majority of Israeli citizens do not agree with the verdict of the military court convicting Sgt. Elor Azaria for the shooting and want him to be pardoned, according to a survey by Channel 2 in which 51% of respondents said that they do not agree with the verdict, compared with only 36% who do agree with the verdict. Azaria faces up to 20 years in prison and will be sentenced on January 15.

There was an even greater disparity between those who want Azaria to be pardoned following the verdict and those who do not. 67% of respondents supported granting Azaria a pardon so he can return to his family, compared to only 19% who did not support a pardon for Azaria. "Tomorrow there is no IDF!" a female relative of the Azaria family shouted at the judge before being escorted out of the courtroom. "The IDF is over.

"This is a difficult and painful day for all of us - first and foremost for Elor and his family, for the soldiers of the IDF, for the citizens, and for the parents of soldiers, including myself." Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page.

''I call on all Israeli citizens to act responsibly toward the IDF, its commanders and staff. We have one army which our existence is dependent upon. The soldiers of the IDF are our sons and daughters, and they must remain above any dispute," the Prime Minister wrote, adding: "I support granting a pardon to Elor Azaria."

The Azaria Trial and the Rift Over Orders to Shoot

By DEBKAfile (Analysis)

All three judges of an Israeli military court Wednesday, Jan. 4, unanimously found Sgt. Elor Azaria guilty of manslaughter for the fatal shooting of an injured terrorist in Hebron in March 2016, after an attack on soldiers. The conviction was announced after a three-hour reading of the verdict by the lead judge, Col. Maya Heller.

The court threw out the entire case for the defense in favor of the testimony given by the commanders at the scene of the incident and the prosecution. The cause of the terrorist's death was judged to be the bullet Sgt. Azaria fired to his head, although the court ruled that there was no danger of the terrorist continuing his attack. Nor was the suspicion of the accused that he concealed explosives confirmed after the fact.

According to the verdict, Azaria was motivated purely by revenge for the terrorist's attempt to stab his friend. Col. Heller rejected arguments that the court was influenced by social, political or military controversy surrounding the case and stressed that it was guided solely by the facts of the case. The convicted soldier's lawyer said he would appeal the verdict. Sentence is to be announced at a later date. See Arutz Sheva's interview with Azaria's lawyer https://youtu.be/MB1eBvlN5X8

.Seven months ago, Azaria was put on trial before a three-judge panel of the Jaffa Military Court. He was charged with manslaughter for shooting dead in March last year a Palestinian terrorist, who had attacked soldiers with a knife and was already shot and injured. Release of the videotape which showed the terrorist lying prone on the ground but still alive when Azaria came on the scene went viral and made the case a cause célèbre.

The trial turned on the question of whether the terrorist was immobilized or still posed a threat. The popular controversy on this question led to Moshe Yaalon's resignation as defense minister, after he argued that Azaria, then 19, was out of line and should stand trial for murder. He was supported by the incumbent chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott. Azaria's family mounted a popular campaign to justify his actions, claiming that he acted in the conviction that he was saving lives. His conduct was backed by many uniformed men through the social media, and a number of former generals volunteered to testify in his defense.

DEBKAfile's military analysts note that the controversy reflects long efforts to introduce politics – or a brand of political correctness - into IDF decision-making. Soldiers are under orders to shoot terrorists in the heat of an attack – that is not in question, but since the Azaria affair, the army under Gen. Eisenkott, is working on refinements, such as when it is permissible and when it is not. Both Yaalon and Eisenkott went overboard in their attempt to improperly influence the course of the military trial sub judice by public statements disparaging the accused soldier.

Last week, in pursuance of this campaign, the former defense minister appeared before 1,000 18-year olds about to join the army for three years of compulsory service. First, he rehashed the events leading up to Azaria's action and his own resignation.

On March 24, he said, two terrorists came up to the Gilbert checkpoint at Tel Romeida in Hebron and started stabbing a soldier and officer who were manning it. But then, Yaalon burst out: "If we don't preserve our human values, the IDF will be no better than Daesh! (ISIS)" the implication being that Azaria was no better than an Islamist State killer.

This was a move to prejudge the trial and sway the three military judges, just in case they were persuaded that Azaria was not trigger-happy but had shot the prone terrorist in the belief that as a soldier it was his duty to protect the immediate environment from further menace. The chief of staff had his say on Tuesday, Jan. 3, the day before the court was to hand down its verdict. He declared that he had a duty to "preserve IDF values."

Our military analysts have searched in vain the IDF military codebook for a definition of "IDF values" among the often contradictory orders of when to open fire. They wonder how a young conscript serving at a checkpoint -and knowing he is the target at any moment for a sudden knifing, shooting, bombing or vehicular attack - can be expected to decide on the spot which "military values" to apply.

In his basic training, he is taught that his duty as a soldier is to fight the enemy and protect civilians. Confusion at the vital moment of an attack could cost precious lives. However, Yaalon and Eisenkott have made it crystal clear that, regardless of the verdict handed down by a court after a long trial and exhaustive questioning of a flock of witnesses – both for the defense and the prosecution – they are determined to perpetuate the divisive, politically-tainted controversy in the country and its armed forces.


Elite Israeli Police Continue Hunt for Fugitive murderer

By DEBKAfile & IsraelNationalNews.com

Large forces from the counter terror unit of Israel's border police launched raids Wednesday afternoon in the city of Haifa in an effort to capture the person who murdered Israeli school driver Guy Kafri and then shot Rabbi Yehiel Iloz less than an hour later on Tuesday afternoon.

Iloz, a member of the city's rabbinical court, sustained moderate wounds. Police and other security forces have decided to investigate the incidents as terrorist attacks due to the lack of any other motive, the short period of time between the shootings, and the lack of any connection between the two victims.

There is a growing conviction among Haifa police that the shooting spree was actually a terror attack perpetrated for nationalistic motives. In the shooting attack, Guy Capri of the city of Nesher was murdered and Rabbi Yehiel Iloz, a resident of Migdal Ha'emek and a rabbinical judge in a conversion court in Haifa, was moderately wounded.

Iloz's son told the media that it was impossible that his father was involved in criminal activity. "He is an honest person who sits in his corner, does his work as a judge and studies Torah all day," said the son. "He does not mix with people and does not look for confrontations. Nobody spoke with him today; it is hard to imagine that he had a dispute with anyone. He never acted cruelly. It must be a case of mistaken identity. He never said that he had a dispute with anyone."

Another family member of the rabbi said he was utterly surprised by the shooting and said that the rabbi had never had a dispute with anyone. "He is a very quiet man, modest and intelligent. There is no way that he got into trouble with someone. This is a person who would not kill a fly, who only speaks if he is asked to say words of Torah.

"He is a father of 7 children, a person who knows how to love. He never spoke of pressures on matters of conversion. He is a quiet man, always studying in the synagogue or in his house. According to what we know there is no chance that there was any [dispute]. If there was anything it might be that he dealt with a person who was refused conversion and wished to use pressure tactics."


6000 Chinese Construction Workers to Arrive in Israel

By AFP

China has agreed for thousands of migrant construction laborers to work in Israel in a bid to alleviate a housing crisis in the Jewish state, the Israeli government said Wednesday. The agreement would see 6,000 Chinese workers arrive in Israel in the six months after the formal signature of the deal expected at the end of February, a joint statement from the interior and finance ministries said.

An Israeli delegation and China's commerce ministry have signed a draft agreement in China, it said. The statement quoted Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon as saying the arrival of the Chinese workers would "energize efforts to solve the housing crisis."

Housing costs in Israel have been rising steeply since 2008, according to Bank of Israel data, significantly impacting the cost of living and triggering a wave of street protests in 2011.Kahlon, whose Kulanu party ran in the 2015 general election on a platform of lowering living costs, came under fire after an August government report showed apartment prices had risen by 8% in a year.

Nearly 9,000 foreign construction laborers work in Israel, all of them from east European countries and half of them under bilateral agreements, according to the interior ministry. The ministry says these agreements allow for the rights of foreign workers to be protected and cut out private manpower firms that charge high commissions and exploit migrant laborers.


Incredible Video: Toddler Rescues Brother From Under Dresser

By IsraelNationalNews.com

A video showing a dresser falling over twin two-year-olds has gone viral on the internet, with some even questioning its veracity. The video was reportedly shared by the twins' mother as a warning to others to secure dressers in their homes. See https://youtu.be/EkcnDJwX0ok

The video shows the boys trying to climb over the dresser until it falls down on top of them. Eventually, one of the twins is able to free his brother who was trapped under the dresser. The boys are then seen injury free. The video was filmed by a surveillance camera that is installed in the boys' home.


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