Israelis rally for unity after soldier’s manslaughter verdict

Jerusalem: Israelis on Saturday answered a wounded army veteran’s call for a show of unity after the deeply divisive manslaughter conviction of a soldier who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant.

Israeli public radio said about 1,500 turned up at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square after a moving Facebook appeal by reserve Captain Ziv Shilon who was seriously injured in 2012 when a Palestinian roadside bomb went off as he patrolled Israel’s border with Gaza.

“Tonight, right, centre or left we are together,” he wrote on Saturday, before the evening rally.

Shilon said he was appalled at the wave of hate unleashed in the wake of Wednesday’s guilty ruling in the case of soldier Elor Azaria, caught on video delivering a shot to the head of a Palestinian attacker as he lay wounded on the ground.

Immediately after the verdict dozens of Azaria supporters scuffled with police.

The following day police arrested two people after death threats emerged online against a military judge and other officials.

Another two, both minors, were arrested on suspicion of daubing graffiti, including calls to kill Arabs and police officers.

Israel’s military has¬†assigned bodyguards to all three judges who convicted the 20-year-old French-Israeli.

“I feel that our people are divided, hurting, hating, disappointed, desperate,” Shilon posted in the early hours of Thursday.

“I — who did not cry at moments that were so hard that I would not wish them on anyone — today I just cried,” he wrote.

“I cried for the hands I left behind in Gaza¬†and I asked myself, perhaps for the first time, was it worth fighting for a people that hates itself?”

Right-wing politicians — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — have already called for Azaria to be pardoned, although he has yet to be sentenced and his lawyers may appeal.

He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot has reportedly been targeted with threats, with some Azaria supporters suggesting he would join Rabin — a reference to the 1995 assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist.

Parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein said a number of officials had also been targeted online, an army spokeswoman said.

A poll by pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom found that around 70 percent of Israelis favour a pardon for Azaria.