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Elor Azaria: From killer to 'king' leading life of luxury in Israel

He served half his sentence. Now the Israeli soldier is offered free drinks, all-expenses holidays and may become a lawyer, according to magazine
Azaria at his sentencing hearing in Tel Aviv last year (AFP)

In his first few months out of jail, a former Israeli soldier has translated a high-profile military court conviction for executing an incapacitated Palestinian into a life of luxury, receiving gifts and perks across the country, a report in Israeli news site Mako reveals.

Between offers for all-expenses paid holidays and free cocktails, 22-year-old Elor Azaria – or "our king" as admirers call him – now gives advice to fellow soldiers about how they should treat Palestinians and is considering a law career to help those just like him.

Many soldiers see him as a kind of mentor, ever since his incident. Elor gives them advice on serving in the territories

- Friend of Elor Azaria

Azaria gained international notoriety in March 2016 after he shot dead 21-year-old Palestinian Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Hebron.

Sharif and another Palestinian man, 21-year-old Ramzi Aziz al-Tamimi al-Qasrawi, had both been shot after an attempted stabbing attack on Israeli soldiers.

Eleven minutes after the initial shootings, Azaria was filmed walking onto the scene and shooting Sharif, who lay motionless on the ground.

He then shook hands with Baruch Marzel, a notorious ultra-nationalist who lives in an illegal settlement in Hebron and is known for his violence towards Palestinians and leftist Israelis.

While military judges and media pundits deliberated over his fate during his trial, Israeli ministers openly expressed solidarity with Azaria and advocated a blanket amnesty for his actions.

'An Israeli hero'

After being sentenced to 18 months in jail and serving just half of it, however, Azaria has become a cause celebre, receiving a hero's welcome from the Israeli public, as Mako reports.

A Tel Aviv-area club owner told the magazine how he heaps adoration on Azaria whenever he makes an appearance.

What does this give for the settlers? It's not kind at all to encourage him, but we know this is the reality of our life

- Abu Tareq al-Sharif, cousin of Abed al-Fattah Yasri al-Sharif

"When he arrived for the first time after he was released from jail, I stopped the music in the middle [of the song], went up to the DJ booth and told everyone on the microphone that today we are joined by our king, Elor," Ras Buskila told the magazine. "People clapped for him, they came to hug him and take photographs with him. Since then, almost every time he comes, I let him choose the music."

He added: "In my opinion, he is an Israeli hero. My brothers and I served in the Golani [Brigade] and we would do exactly the same thing that he did, or even shooting off some more bullets. We treat him ... in my opinion, he can drink as much as he wants on the house, and of course does not pay cover. I give his friends a discount. He is the local celebrity and he deserves that kind of treatment."

In recent weeks, Azaria has been invited to several parties to celebrate his release, including at a settlement in Hebron. But not everyone was celebrating: across town, Mako spoke to the cousin of Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif, Abu Tareq al-Sharif.

Al-Sharif's mother holds a portrait of him in her home in Hebron (AFP)
"I don't like these celebrations at all. What does this give for the settlers? It's not kind at all to encourage him, but we know this is the reality of our life," he said.

But the perks continue: a confidante of Azaria told Mako that, just days after Azaria was released from jail in May, an American Jewish millionaire offered him an all-expenses-paid vacation to a Western European tourist destination.

Azaria donated the vacation package to two other Israeli soldiers, for fear that he could be sued, or even arrested, if he leaves the country.

He can drink as much as he wants on the house and of course does not pay cover. I give his friends a discount. He is the local celebrity and he deserves that kind of treatment

- Ras Buskila, Tel Aviv club owner

Pro-Palestinian activists in Europe have accused top Israeli officials of complicity in war crimes against Palestinians for their respective roles in Israel'’s military campaigns against Gaza, and have called for them to be arrested if and when they visit the EU.

Up until now, EU leaders have largely heeded the pleas of the Israeli government and have rejected these calls, but Azaria's family worries that the same exception will not be made in the case of their son, according to Mako.

As long as he stays in Israel, however, Azaria can – if the Mako piece is any indication - expect to receive both popular support and plethora of financial opportunities, including offers to turn his story into a book or a film, the magazine reported.

With his stint in prison behind him, Azaria, according to Mako, regularly converses with other Israelis serving in the military, who turn to him for guidance about how Palestinians should be treated.

"Many soldiers see him as a kind of mentor, ever since his incident," one friend of Azaria told Mako. "Elor gives them advice on serving in the territories."

Azaria heads to prison with his mother in August 2017 (AFP)
According to Azaria's inner circle, he is now contemplating studying law, for this very reason. "He wants to be a lawyer, to represent soldiers that were in a similar situation to him, to help them," said a friend.

But it hasn't all been coming up roses for Azaria: last week Israel's Ministry of Internal Security refused his request for a gun licence.

Although the ministry is relaxing its regulations and increasing the number of Israeli civilians that can carry handguns by hundreds of thousands, it banned Azaria from being among them, saying that he was "a public threat".

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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