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Israelis rally for unity after Elor Azaria manslaughter verdict

Wounded army veteran says he was appalled at wave of hate unleashed in wake of guilty ruling in case of soldier Elor Azaria
Israeli reserve army Captain Zim Shilon (YouTube screengrab)

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 lost an arm in 2012 when a roadside bomb went off as he patrolled Israel's border with Gaza. 

"I am whole because of the unity of the people," said Shilon at the rally, the Jerusalem Post reported. "There is a way to say things and that is in a civilized manner, with love and not by swearing and badmouthing."

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.

In the middle of the rally, just ahead of Shilon's speech, a group of Azaria supporters interrupted with banners and megaphones and cries that Azaria was innocent and calls for his release, the Post said. They were escorted away by police.

Israeli police said eight people were arrested during a counter-protest calling in support of Azaria outside the Jerusalem residence of President Reuven Rivlin following a reconciliation rally in Tel Aviv.

Support for Azaria

Immediately after the verdict was issued on Wednesday, dozens of Azaria supporters had 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 on social media 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 about 70 percent of Israelis favour a pardon for Azaria.

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