Thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Tuesday in support of an army medic who was caught on video last month apparently executing a wounded Palestinian suspect following a knife attack in the occupied West Bank.
The medic, Sgt. Elor Azaria, 19, was charged with manslaughter by an Israeli military court on Monday for firing a single bullet into the head of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, killing him, on March 24 in the city of Hebron. Sharif was one of two young Palestinians suspected of lightly wounding an Israeli soldier in an area of the city inhabited by Jewish settlers.
Video of the incident recorded by a Palestinian witness and posted online by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, showed that Sharif was lying prone on the ground, already immobilized by previous gunshots, when Azaria cocked his gun and shot him.
Haaretz, the Tel Aviv daily, reported that his supporters shouted slogans including, “He’s a hero,” and “Release the soldier.” The soldier’s mother thanked the crowd of about 5,000, according to a police estimate, and reminded her son that “from a young age, you wanted to be a combat soldier and give back to your country.”
Chant: Release the kid or we'll turn the country over— Ben Hartman (@Benhartman) April 19, 2016
Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of Israel’s parliament, shared an image of one of the soldier’s supporters holding a sign that read, “Kill Them All.”
Elizabeth Tsurkov, an Israeli rights activist, pointed to video of the demonstrators dancing to a religious song.
Noam Sheizaf, a Tel Aviv journalist and blogger, suggested that the size of the crowd, which failed to meet expectations, was less important than the fact that the prime minister appeared to be following the lead of the ultranationalist demonstrators.
The problem is not with the 6k at Rabin sq. now. the problem is w/ the man at prime minster office following their lead— noam sheizaf (@nsheizaf) April 19, 2016
As The Intercept reported, polls show a majority of Israelis oppose the military’s decision to prosecute the soldier, and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, backed away from his initial condemnation of the shooting.
Ayman Odeh, the Palestinian leader of the opposition Joint List in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, observed on Twitter that the protesters were right to say that the medic’s actions were not an aberration but a clear result of the policies pursued by the Israeli government and military in the occupied West Bank.
There was also reportedly strong sentiment in the crowd against left-wing Israelis and the media. Video posted online by Israel’s Channel 10 showed one of its reporters, Moav Vardi, being threatened by the demonstrators.
As the Jerusalem Post reported last month, an Israeli military prosecutor told a court that Azaria told his commanding officer immediately after the shooting that he had fired the shot because “the terrorist needed to die.”
Tuesday’s rally was only the latest show of support for Azaria, as the filmmakers Dan Cohen and David Sheen reported earlier this month.