TEL AVIV • A military panel has sentenced an Israeli soldier to 18 months in jail for killing an immobilised Palestinian attacker, in a judgment that exposed deep fault lines in Israeli society.
Elor Azaria, a medic in the military, was convicted last month of killing Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif in March last year while the Palestinian was lying wounded and immobile on the ground after stabbing a soldier. The judges rejected the idea that Azaria thought the man was wearing a bomb belt or might grab his knife, which was nearby.
The case was controversial, with many Israelis arguing Azaria had acted in self-defence and others saying the army should be held to a high moral code. The controversy contributed to a rupture between then-Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which culminated in Mr Ya'alon's resignation.
Mr Netanyahu and many members of his government have called for President Reuven Rivlin to pardon the soldier.
"Israel's security demands that we give Elor Azaria, who was sent to defend us, an immediate pardon," Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on his Twitter account after the sentencing.
"Elor shouldn't sit in jail because we would all pay the price."
Azaria's term is much lower than the maximum possible manslaughter sentence of 20 years and less than the three to five years the prosecution had sought. He is planning to appeal, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Palestinian government spokesman Tarek Rishmawi yesterday called the ruling "light" and said it gives "green light" for the military's "crimes".
With the 50th anniversary of Israel's wartime capture of the West Bank approaching, the trial has generated debate about whether the military, long seen as a melting pot for Israelis, was out of touch with a public that has shifted to the right in its attitudes towards the Palestinians.
Judge Maya Heller said yesterday the court took mitigating factors into account, such as the fact that the incident took place in "hostile territory" in the West Bank flashpoint of Hebron, and what she described as "harm" suffered by Azaria's family.
On the other hand, she noted, Azaria had not expressed remorse for his actions, according to details of the hearing from a press pool report.
He also was demoted from sergeant to private as part of the sentence.
His family showed no emotion as the sentence was announced, according to the report.
"None of us has any expectations. We will accept the sentence whatever it may be," Mr Charley Azaria, the soldier's father, said before the ruling.
He called on his son's supporters, who staged large public demonstrations after the conviction last month, not to cause disruptions.
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE