Tributes to Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter

2017-03-12 17:45
Elor Azaria in court. (Heidi Levine, AFP)

Elor Azaria in court. (Heidi Levine, AFP)

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Hebron - Israeli settlers celebrating a Jewish holiday in the occupied West Bank on Sunday paid tribute to a soldier who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant, with some even dressing up as him.

A parade in the city of Hebron for Purim, which sees participants dress up, began at the spot where the shooting which deeply divided Israeli society occurred on the same holiday last year.

The parade traditionally begins there, but this year it took on particular significance - a prominent far-right lawyer dressed up as the soldier, Sergeant Elor Azaria, who has been convicted of manslaughter.

At least one other person also dressed up in tribute to Azaria, and a loudspeaker announcement as the parade began thanked him, drawing cheers from some in the crowd.

Several hundred people took part in the parade in Hebron, where the presence of about 500 Israeli settlers in the heart of the city of about 200 000 Palestinians leads to near-constant tension.

Security was tight, with a large deployment of Israeli soldiers and police.

"I think it's very normal that people feel that he saved us from a terrorist who tried to kill us, and a lot of people support him," Tzipi Schlissel, 51, who lives down the street from where last year's incident occurred, said of Azaria.

'Evil person'

"I think the terrorist who gets support from a lot of people in the world is an evil person that came to kill people, and he can't complain that he got killed when he came to kill other people," added Schlissel, who said her father was killed in an attack years ago.

Despite the tributes to Azaria, the parade was more celebration than politics, with children and adults dressed as everything from cartoon characters to clowns.

They paraded through a part of the flash point city under tight Israeli control, with checkpoints restricting access. Traditional and dance music blared from speakers.

Purim celebrates a story from Hebrew scripture in which the Jews of the Persian empire were rescued from annihilation. Every year, Jews celebrate by giving each other presents and wearing costumes.

The March 2016 shooting was caught on video and spread widely online.

It showed Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, lying wounded on the ground, shot along with another Palestinian after the army said he stabbed and wounded a soldier.

Appeal

Azaria then shot him in the head without any apparent provocation.

The soldier was sentenced by a military court on February 21 to 18 months in jail after an exceptional trial that highlighted deep divisions in public opinion.

He has appealed the conviction, but prosecutors have also appealed the sentence, calling it "excessively lenient".

A number of politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have called for Azaria to be pardoned, despite the military top brass strongly condemning the soldier's actions.

Palestinians have described the shooting as another example of the abuses under Israel's occupation.

Read more on:    elor azaria  |  palestine  |  israel

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