Elor Azaria has been found guilty over the death of an immobile Palestinian suspect that was caught on video. Protesters and right-wing politicians had expressed strong support for the soldier over military condemnation.
Elor Azaria, the 20-year-old Israeli Defense Force soldier whose case has polarized Israel, was convicted of manslaughter in a landmark case on Wednesday for shooting dead a Palestinian assailant who was lying on the ground. His conduct caused an outcry across the country when video footage of the incident was leaked online.
Hundreds of protestors stood outside the courthouse in Tel Aviv in a show of support for Azaria. "The nation is with you" and "People of Israel do not abandon a soldier in the battlefield," read some of the signs.
Scuffles broke out between the demonstrators and police officers after the protest began blocking a major intersection in the city. Two protesters were then arrested for disturbing the peace.
The Palestinian foreign ministry called the whole process a "mock trial" in a statement slamming the proceedings. What is needed, said the statement, is not a trial against one soldier but "a trial of the entire occupation authority, which rushes to incite against Palestinians and commit dozens of crimes against them."
The case had deeply divided officials in Israel, with army leaders condemning the killing and right-wing politicians coming to Azaria's defense. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even called the young soldier's father to offer his sympathies.
Military chief: Azaria is not a child
In the video, Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, is lying prostrate next to another man, having stabbed and mortally wounded a soldier shortly before. Azaria, who was 19 at the time, can then be seen shooting al-Sharif in the head even though he was already lying on the ground. Azaria's lawyers had argued that their client may have thought al-Sharif was wearing a suicide belt, although he had already been checked for explosives and no one in the video appeared to be approaching him with caution.
Military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot slammed how the case was politicized, saying it could "harm our institutions and our requirements of soldiers."
"An 18-year-old man who serves in the army is not our child, he is not a baby," said Eisenkot, criticizing a support campaign for Azaria that called the soldier a "child" of all Israelis.
In a rare case of an Israeli soldier being held accountable for the death of a Palestinian, Azaria faces up to 20 years in prison. His sentencing will come at a later date.
es/kms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)