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Hebron Soldier Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison, Amid Calls for Immediate Pardon

By Israel Hayom &

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, convicted on manslaughter charges for shooting and killing an incapacitated terrorist in Hebron last March, was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in prison, minus the nine days the spent in custody over the course of the legal proceedings. He was also demoted from sergeant to private. Around 100 protesters went to the military court in the IDF's Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv in a show of support for the soldier.

Military Court Judge Maya Heller read out the ruling, saying: "The standard punishment for manslaughter is 20 years in prison, to teach us about the gravity that the legislature attributes to the crime of manslaughter. But in the State of Israel, punishment is individual. ... The defendant was drafted to the IDF in July 2014 as an infantryman in the Kfir Brigade; he successfully passed a paramedics' course. The defendant has no disciplinary past."

Heller described Azaria's family history and situation, saying he had had a difficult time adjusting to life as a combat soldier, but he had not received any help for his distress from the military. She also mentioned his father's testimony that he had suffered a stroke during the trial and that Azaria's mother had lost weight due to their distress over their son's legal proceedings.

Heller noted that the prosecution felt that Azaria had "taken advantage of the power that he had been given," but she also recognized the complicated situation he was in, having treated a friend who was victim to the terrorist's attack. She said the prosecution was seeking minimal punishment, arguing that it was Azaria's first operational event, and that he had suffered "symptoms of post-trauma" since the incident.

"The actions of the defendant damaged a number of social values," Heller said. "The main protected value is the sanctity of life. ... The expression of the great status of this value can be learned from the punishment determined for the crime of manslaughter. The terrorist did not pose a danger at that time, and so this [shooting] also damaged the value of the purity of arms. ... Straying from the orders for opening fire can damage the values of the IDF and its morals. Violating the duty to safeguard the purity of arms can harm the State of Israel and its security efforts."

Heller noted that the judges had been divided in determining a fair punishment for Azaria. The majority felt he should serve 18 to 48 months in prison, and the minority felt 30 to 60 months in prison was more appropriate.

"We chose to take into consideration the significant period of time in which he [Azaria] remained in open custody [during which he was confined to his base]," Heller said. "We further considered the fact that during this period his commanders did not visit him. It was expected that they would get in touch with him. This is a young man for whom this is his first run-in with the legal authorities. It is a one-time failure of the defendant. The defendant was caused damage beyond the damages of the legal proceedings. The defendant and his family were the targets of serious threats. The consequences of a criminal record for the defendant must also be considered."

However, "we were unanimously convinced that there are no considerations that justify a departure from the range of fair punishment," Heller said. "The defendant's failure to take responsibility justifies the harsher punishment."

Immediately after the sentence was announced, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) tweeted: "The security of the citizens of Israel depends on an immediate pardon for Elor Azaria, who was sent to protect us. The process was tainted from the start. Elor must not go to prison, because we'll all pay the price for it."

Construction Minister Yoav Gallant (Kulanu), a major general in the reserves and former GOC of the IDF's Southern Command, contacted Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot to request that Azaria's sentence be commuted.

"The Azaria affair has taken a heavy price on the army and on Israeli society. Given the time he has served in jail and for the sake of healing the breach between the factions of the people, we must also demonstrate common sense and a certain amount of mercy. I call upon the defense minister and the chief of staff to grant a pardon, today," Gallant said.

Likud MK Oren Hazan, who has been a vocal supporter of Azaria since the affair began, tweeted: "Every day the soldier Elor Azaria is in prison is a stain on the IDF and the legal system. Instead of behaving courageously and listening to the public, the court preferred to adopt the agenda of a defense minister who went rogue and abandoned his post [referring to former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon], particularly in the Azaria affair. It was game of pre-determined targets."

MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said that "the sentencing in the Azaria trial needs to mark an end to this painful affair. We need to say 'enough' to the politicians who tried to stir up cheap populism on the backs of Elor and his family, while threatening the values of the IDF and the ability of its commanders to lead it."

At the same time, the former director of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, writing on Twitter, calls the sentence "embarrassingly lenient. It's even more embarrassing that the conduct of the politicians who are still demanding a pardon for someone who shot a terrorist in the head because he felt like it. A country thirsty for blood and lusting for revenge," Oppenheimer wrote.

Before the sentencing, the prosecution had asked to have Azaria sentenced to between three and five years in prison, in addition to the period he spent in open custody during legal proceedings, and to have him demoted.

Explaining why the prosecution was seeking a relatively lenient punishment, Military Prosecutor Nadav Weismann said the crime had not been premeditated and Azaria was responding after the terrorist had stabbed a comrade of his. However, Weismann noted that 11 minutes passed between the attack and the shooting. The prosecution also said the situation in Hebron is complicated, and that Azaria was apparently a well-behaved and exemplary soldier until the shooting. Azaria's lawyers had sought to have him avoid serving any time at all in prison.

The family of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, the terrorist who carried out a stabbing attack in Hebron last year before being shot dead by Azaria, has expressed anger over the latter's sentencing of 18 months in prison by a military court on Tuesday. Commenting on the sentencing for the manslaughter, the Sharif's father complained that Azaria's punishment "of a year and a half is a slap on the wrist. They're laughing in our face. It's all a show."

"If you arrest someone for throwing a stone they get two years. Here a soldier murders someone and gets a year and a half," the father added, later saying "my son in not an animal. I'm not content with the verdict."

Sharif's family followed Azaria's trial closely from their home in Hebron, surrounded by representatives of Palestinian and Arab media. "If he was Palestinian, they would have thrown him in jail for the rest of his life like a dog," said Samir, Sharif's uncle, who beforehand expected Azaria to "do a few months max, in good conditions."

After the verdict Samir told Ynet that "this whole sentence was nonsense. What kind of court gives a year and a half for manslaughter? They should have at least given him 10 years. Let's say Abdel Fattah set out to kill. He failed, was wounded and fell on the floor unable to do anything. Why shoot him in the head? To end his life. This is a person, not a dog."

Another uncle of Sharif, Abu Tarek, objected to what he also considered to be a light punishment, but said that he was hardly surprised. "The verdict was predictable. This court is a farce and not a real court. We have Palestinian leadership and we are prepared for any decision they'll agree upon. We also support bringing this case to the international court in The Hague. Why was the officer in charge of Azaria not prosecuted? The court leaned towards the far right and not towards conscience."

US Envoy's Pro-Israel Speech After UN Security Council Meeting Goes Viral


After attending her first monthly meeting of the U.N. Security Council, new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley slams forum's anti-Israel bias and focus on condemning Israel rather than addressing the "real threats we face in the Middle East." Her speech went viral on social media on Monday.

Following the U.N. Security Council's monthly discussion on the Middle East, in which Haley participated for the first time as the U.S. representative, she convened a press conference Thursday at which she said she had been surprised to discover that the discussion had not covered Hizbullah's illegal missile armament, Iran's funding and arming terrorist organizations, ways to defeat the Islamic State group, or how Syrian President Bashar Assad could be held accountable for the slaughters of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians.

"No, instead the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East," Haley said. "I might be new here, but I understand that this is how the Security Council has behaved month after month for decades. I am here to underscore the ironclad support of the United States for Israel. I'm here to emphasize the United States is determined to stand up to the UN's anti-Israel bias. We will never repeat the terrible mistake of Resolution 2334 and allow one-sided Security Council resolutions to condemn Israel. Instead, we will push for action on the real threats we face in the Middle East. We stand for peace. We support a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is negotiated directly between the two parties."

White House Condemns String of Bomb Threats to Jewish Centers

By DEBKAfile & Reuters

Eleven Jewish Community centers were shaken by another wave of bomb threats Monday, forcing evacuations in 10 states across the United States. Law enforcement officials were investigating the threats and, as of late Monday, centers were being reopened after explosive devices were not found.

There have now been at least 67 incidents at 56 Jewish Community Centers in 27 states and one Canadian province since the start of 2017. Over the weekend, more than 100 headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in St Louis, Missouri, the facility's director said.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday decried anti-Semitic threats against Jewish community centers as "horrible" and "painful," promising to work to bridge divisions in the country. "This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms," Trump said in remarks after visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

"The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible, and are painful -- and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil."

The White House issued a statement condemning "hatred and hate-motivated violence" in response to a question from an NBC reporter about the anti-Semitic incidents without mentioning anti-Semitism or the specific incidents.

Earlier, Hilary Clinton called on Trump to condemn the anti-Semitic incidents. "JCC threats, cemetery desecration & online attacks are so troubling & they need to be stopped. Everyone must speak out, starting w/ @POTUS," Clinton tweeted Tuesday morning

Open Letter to Members of Senate Foreign Relations Committee: 'Why Does US Consulate in Jerusalem Refuse to Hire Jews?'

By Daniel Winston

I am a US citizen living in Israel. Over the past decades I have had numerous occasions to utilize the services of the US Consulate in Jerusalem. In all those years, I have observed that I have never seen a Jewish Israeli at any of the various service points where consular staff interacts with the public.

All such staff are either from the US or local Arab staffers. Not only is this consistently the case at all consular services inside the consulate, but also it can be seen, shockingly, that even the security staff are often Arabs. I can assure you that there is no shortage of qualified Jewish Israelis who could fill such consular positions - and so the question is begged: is the US State Department systematically choosing, over the course of decades, to not hire Jewish Israelis, while singularly preferring all local staffers to be selected from the Arab population?

The second matter is different but definitely potentially connected to my first query. A perusal of consular activities as reflected on the official website shows that all programming efforts are geared towards and in concert with local Arab populations in eastern Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

There is not a single mention of any cultural, political, educational, business, or any other consular activities or programming on behalf of or in cooperation with the Jewish residents of these areas. Further to this observation, State Department Middle East Partnership Initiative grants in this area appear to be given only to either Arab grantees or to organizations that work to promote Arab civic, business, cultural, and other agendas in the region.

Again, these observations beg the question: Is the US State Department systematically and systemically singling out one local population for preferential treatment to the complete exclusion of another population? I sent these queries (twice) to the Jerusalem Consulate, and have received no reply after several weeks.

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