“If someone is arrested for throwing a rock, they get a two-year sentence,” the father, Yusri al-Sharif, said, according to the news site Ynet. “In this case, a soldier murdered and got a year and a half.”
“My son is not an animal,” he said.
But Israeli leaders, still shocked that an Israeli soldier was convicted in January in a killing in a military operation, again called for Sergeant Azaria’s pardon. The refrain, in this nation where most Israelis serve in the military, is that it could have been anyone’s son, acting in a conflict that is far older than he is and that shows no sign of being resolved.
“This is a sad day, a harsh sentence,” said Miri Regev, the minister of culture and sport and a former brigadier general. “I ask the chief of staff once again to pardon warrior Elor Azaria.”
“There is a need to remember that even a soldier who made a mistake is our soldier,” said Yoav Galant, the construction minister and a former army commander.
Prosecutors had asked for a prison term of three to five years. Judge Maya Heller said that the manslaughter conviction was “grave” and that Sergeant Azaria could have faced up to 20 years in prison. She noted that the defendant had a clean record but also that he had not expressed any remorse for the killing.
“The acts of the defendant are serious,” the judge said, according to a pool report from Israel Radio. “The accused damaged the purity of arms which is so holy” in the Israeli military. “There is a need to safeguard humanity.”
The case unfolded against a backdrop of random attacks by Palestinians using guns, knives and vehicles that killed at least 28 Israelis in just over four months. The decision to prosecute Sergeant Azaria emerged as a flash point in the debate over the Israeli military and its role as the nation’s conscience and protector.
The video showing Sergeant Azaria shoot Mr. Sharif, unarmed, unmoving and lying on his back, ignited outrage on social media.
On Tuesday, Ayman Odeh, an Arab member of Israel’s Parliament, speculated that the case resonated so widely because “there are many, many other similar cases” but that this one was captured on video. He said the problem, generally, is with the occupation, not a specific soldier.
“When someone murders like that and gets a year and a half jail, and seconds after ministers call for a pardon, I can’t speak about rule of law,” he said in an interview in New York.
During the trial, a soldier testified that before the shooting Sergeant Azaria had said: “How is it that my friend was stabbed and a terrorist is still alive?”
His commander testified that he had asked him who had authorized him to shoot the man in the head. The commander said the sergeant had replied, “The terrorist was alive, and he has to die.”
After the conviction in January, politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, immediately called for Sergeant Azaria to be pardoned. That can be granted only by the chief of staff or the president. Sergeant Azaria’s lawyers said they would appeal the sentence.
In the sentencing, the judges noted that this was Sergeant Azaria’s first incident and that he had treated the wounded soldier.
“There is also no ignoring that during the shooting the scene was active, and the operational incident had not fully ended,” the judges wrote. “There were also troops at the scene, as well as civilian rescue forces and civilians. There had been calls in the area about the danger the terrorist posed.”
An Israeli legal and human rights group that opposes Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Yesh Din, has said that before this case, only one Israeli soldier had been charged and convicted of homicide after more than 260 investigations into Palestinian fatalities since the beginning of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000.
Traditionally, Israel’s generals have preached restraint in the face of Palestinian violence and adherence to regulations in which soldiers should shoot only to neutralize a threat. But under the pressure of continued violence last winter and into spring, that consensus had eroded.
The Palestinian attacks put “a lot of tension on the military leadership and the soldiers who are put in situations where they are supposed to fight terror, protect themselves and comply” with the military’s values, said Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute, in an interview at the time.