The senior IDF Reserves officers set to testify on behalf of Elor Azariya submitted declarations to the court today, in which they harshly criticized the defense establishment's behavior during and after the incident for which Azariya is being tried.
Brigadier General (Reserves) Shmuel Zakai asserted that the pictures of the incident in Hevron certify that the prosecution is in error, and that Azariya acted out of a reasonable concern that the terrorist may have been carrying a bomb.
"The fact that the terrorist moved and could have reached a detonator, along with the fact that there were two terrorists at the scene, constitutes an undoubtedly good enough reason to assume the existence of danger that justified opening fire," Zakai said. "When you assess the likelihood, [you see that] there was a professional basis for acting to neutralize the terrorist."
According to Channel 2, Zakai also blames the commanding officers in the field who, he asserts, acted contrary to instructions. "There was a huge mess there," he said. "No isolating the terrorist, soldiers endangering themselves, medical staff and other soldiers. The orders of the Brigade Commander are a continuation of the command failure here. It is absolutely forbidden to evacuate terrorists without first checking for explosives."
Zakai also had harsh criticism for the Defense Minister at the time, Moshe Yaalon, who had said at the time, while standing at the Knesset plenum, "he who acted excessively must pay the penalty."
"It is unthinkable that after the soldier already had been told he was going to be subjected to disciplinary action, the Defense Minister, IDF Chief of Staff and IDF Spokesman expressed their opinion in the matter? With statements like 'the soldier acted excessively,' 'the soldier acted like an animal?'
"These things are shocking to me. What is more, we're talking about actions which destroy any chance of getting a fair trial."
Zakai added that "the behavior of Senior Command after the investigation, including public condemnation of the fighter, whether through hints or directly, constitutes a significant and professional scandal. There was a serious blow here to the logic that is the basis of law, behavior whose consequences pose real danger to human life in the future."
Major General (Reserves) Uzi Dayan, former head of Israel's National Security Council, noted in his declaration to the court that it was unjustified for a military police investigation to be opened against Azariya; rather, "the command at the scene of the incident and the management of the scene was faulty" from the outset.
"There is no need to get police investigators involved in an operational incident. They do not possess the required experience for it. I suggest that the court ignores all judgmental statements that have been heard, and all public pressure. The results of this case have implications for all fighters, as well as for the general populace," Dayan said.
Similarly, General (Reserves) Dan Bitton criticized officers at the scene of the incident: "There was a crisis of command [on the part of all the high-ranking officers]. In my opinion, the platoon commander went into trauma from the shooting. The case represents a watershed. An incorrect ruling will lead to a situation in which no soldier will be able to shoot to save lives, as [Azariya] did."
Azariya's legal team was not amused that the declarations of their witnesses had been leaked: "Barely a day has passed from when the names of the defense witnesses were handed in before they were leaked to the press. We will not address the content of the testimonies, except in court. It is clear to the defense team why the names were leaked: so as to [allow certain quarters] to put pressure on the witnesses so they won't testify for the soldier, especially since their testimony helps him.
"We will, however, emphasize that senior witnesses will not cave in the face of pressure, whether or not their names were published, even as criticism is being leveled against them in some quarters for their mere willingness to testify."