The biggest military trial in Israel’s history has ended with a verdict. Sgt. Elor Azaria has been found guilty of manslaughter in a Military Court, on 4th January 2017. The verdict was surrounded by much controversy in Israel and it has shown up the divisions in Israeli society. The verdict is a reasonable verdict, and is just short of cold blooded murder.
It was a trial overshadowed by politics and many members of the ruling government coalition expressed support for the convicted soldier right throughout the trial for the purpose of scoring populist points with the electorate. It was wrong and unjustifiable for the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to even contact the parents of Elor Azaria to express his sympathy. This was obviously a populist move to rabble rouse the right wing in order to increase support for his coalition.
Elor was filmed by B’tzelem shooting a prone Palestinian terrorist, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who had stabbed a fellow soldier before being neutralized. About 11 minutes after al-Sharif was lying neutralized on the ground, Azaria decided to take revenge for the stabbing of a fellow soldier by shooting a bullet into the terrorist’s head. Despite Azaria’s claims that he felt that his life (Azaria’s) was endangered by the fact that the terrorist may have explosives and endangered the lives of fellow soldiers. Apart from that, is there any logic shooting a prone terrorist who may have an explosive vest as Elor claimed in his trial? If this was the case, he should have warned his fellow soldiers that their lives were endangered before shooting.
The attitude towards the shooting of the terrorist by Elor Azaria by the previous Minister of Defense, Moshe Yaalon, had cost him his portfolio.
The presiding judge, Col. Maya Heller, unraveled version after version of Azaria’s testimony, and claim after claim made by his attorneys. Her ruling was unequivocal, and had the backing of the other judges on the military court panel. One of them, Lt. Col. Yaron Sitbon, is a combat officer who today commands the army’s anti-terror unit. The only plausible conclusion is that the prosecution’s charge of manslaughter against Azaria was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The result was the violent reaction of the crowd outside the military court. It was so disgraceful and all the extreme right wing scumbags started chanting threatening the judge, press and TV of influencing the verdict as well as the IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot. All the racist scum arrived from all over the country to demonstrate and to support the convicted soldier. La Familia of Betar Soccer Club, Jerusalem, extreme right wing supporters of the Late Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach movement, Benzi Gopstein the leader of Lehava, Baruch Marzel (who shook Elor’s hand after he shot the terrorist). To this extremist right wing, racist rabble, Elor Azaria is a hero, who was wrongly convicted of manslaughter. He was saving his fellow soldiers from being stabbed by the prone terrorist. The reaction of the Government Coalition to this hate rhetoric from the demonstrators was relatively mild.
The IDF orders of firing a weapon is for neutralizing those who endanger the lives of others. Many Palestinian terrorists were killed in their stabbing sprees against innocent civilians in order to save lives. Nobody, apart from Palestinian terrorist groups and their pundits, condemn the use of firearms to kill terrorists in action. This was not the case of Elor Azaria, whose act was nothing but an act of vengeance as was proved by the military court.
Despite that, many Israelis believe that Azaria is a hero and did what was required of him in order to save lives. Even Israel’s cabinet members, PM Netanyahu, Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman have expressed views that Elor should be pardoned for what he did. Even on the so-called left, Shelly Yachimovich has expressed the populist view of pardoning Elor Azaria. It would have been prudent of them not to comment or get involved apart from stating that they accept the court judgment and allow matters to take their course according to the law of the land without political involvement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he supports a pardon for Sergeant Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier convicted of shooting and killing a Palestinian attacker who had been disarmed and was lying on the ground.1
Killing a shackled prisoner, neutralized terrorist, or any criminal in custody is an offense and this case is no different. IDF Protocol is very specific about when to fire a weapon. The right wing extremists accuse those who agree with IDF protocol on using a firearm as being treacherous. They seem to have a bloodlust.
The hype surrounding the Elor Azaria case and its political overtones have done much harm to the IDF, democracy and freedom of the courts that also ensures the freedom of all Israelis. The demonstration of the rabble rousing scum outside the military court has done nothing but harmed Israel.
1 5 Jan. 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/liveblogs/2017/01/news-today/512126/. Accessed 5 Jan. 2017.