Two arrested for threatening judge in Israeli soldier trial

Judges who convicted Israeli soldier of manslaughter get bodyguards.

The mother (L) and siblings of Palestinian Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, who was shot dead on March 24 by Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, in Hebron. A military court convicted Azaria of manslaughter on January 4, 2015. Hazem Bader / AFP
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JERUSALEM // Israeli police arrested two people on Thursday after death threats emerged online against a judge over the manslaughter conviction of a soldier who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant.

Israel’s military has also assigned bodyguards to the three judges who found the 20-year-old Sergeant Elor Azaria guilty on Wednesday and the Palestinian activist who filmed the crime now says he fears for his life. Imad Abu Shimsiyya told Maan, the Palestinian news agency, that he had received hundreds of death threats and claimed that members of Azaria’s family had broken into his house and asked him to change his testimony.

Mr Abu Shimsiiya said he had also filmed that incident.

“I have received hundreds of messages from Israeli settlers threatening me and they have tried to pay me bribes to convince me to change my testimony in court,” he told Maan.

Azaria killed Abdul Fatah Al Sharif by shooting him execution-style as he lay motionless and already badly wounded on the ground in the West Bank city of Hebron last March. The soldier is now awaiting sentencing.

The case sparked outrage and deeply divided Israel and its leadership. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Azaria to be pardoned – a position apparently supported by 70 per cent of Israelis, according to the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom.

It is also what many Palestinians expect will happen. On Salah El Din Street, the bustling main thoroughfare of Arab East Jerusalem, the prevailing opinion on Thursday was that Israelis feel killing Arabs is acceptable. In Jewish West Jerusalem, meanwhile, many Israelis voiced anger or disappointment with the military justice system, arguing that the judging panel should have taken into account Azaria’s youth and the fact that 21-year-old Al Sharif had stabbed and wounded a soldier.

“It’s all a game and then they will pardon him,” said Hazem Abu Najib, 45, owner of a clothing store. “After two years visit me again – he will be free.”

The policy of the Israeli government was to shoot Palestinians, he added, for offences as minor as being in the wrong lane at military checkpoints.

“A pardon is expected,” said Firas Qawasme, a lawyer. “What we are seeing is theatre to make it look like there is law.”

Bookstore owner Imad Muna said Israel had employed a “double standard” by putting the soldier on trial for manslaughter rather than murder. “If it was a Palestinian who did it, they would try him for murder,” he said. “This soldier came from the society and the army teaches to kill immediately in the case of a Palestinian. “They have to teach differently. They kill Palestinians without thinking twice. The blood of the Palestinian is cheap. It’s not a big deal for them.” Pensioner Marwan Kaswineh said: “A small Palestinian boy will get years for throwing stones but this soldier will get nothing. They will not only pardon him, they will promote him.”

But in West Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim Street, there was anger over the verdict. “This is a disgrace and embarrassment to the country, the army, and those who were killed in wars to save us,” said Yakir Siso, 26, a manager of a petrol station. “He should be demoted yes, but not go to jail. He didn’t kill just anyone, he killed a terrorist who stabbed soldiers. Elor thought his life was in danger. I would do the same thing.”

Mr Siso voiced disdain for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which distributed the video of the killing, and the “extreme left”, which had forced Azaria to be put on trial when the matter could easily have been handled by a disciplinary hearing, he said.

Uzi Nigri, 56, who runs a stationery and school supplies store, said Azaria “made a mistake and deserves to be punished”.

“I’m not saying he should be put away for a huge number of years but as far as ethics goes, he failed. We need to safeguard the morality of the army.”

Mr Nigri said he was disturbed by reports of threats against military judge Col Maya Heller and the army chief of staff Lt Gen Gadi Eisencott after the verdict. “The moral level of the society has declined and the government doesn’t sufficiently condemn those who make the threats.”

* additional reporting by Agence France-Presse