The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldier and medic Elor Azaria, who was filmed last March (by Imad Abu Shamsiya, a Palestinian B’Tselem volunteer) executing an incapacitated Palestinian man, Fattah al-Sharif, in cold blood has been convicted of manslaughter. He is now the modern Israeli hero, “the child of all of us” as many Israelis refer to him.
Shortly after the verdict was announced a poll showed that a whopping 70% of the Israeli public support Azaria’s pardon. What’s more, key figures of the Israeli government have unified in their call for pardoning Azaria in what can only be interpreted as an expression of cynical political opportunism. Those calling for a pardon include Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, and of course Israel’s Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who is currently under investigation for numerous corruptions. Even Shelly Yacimovich of the opposition, to the extent that the use of the word is even valid when referring to the Israeli Knesset, has conveyed her support for pardoning Azaria.
“Today a soldier who killed a terrorist who deserved to die, who tried to slaughter [another] soldier, was placed in shackles and convicted as a criminal”, Bennett declared.
Naftali “shrapnel in the butt” Bennett, the Education Minister who hails from the far-right Habayit HaYehudi party, was in the past quoted bragging about killing Arabs and how he had “no problem with that”. Bennett does not care that each and every one of the arguments for self-defense brought forth by Azaria’s lawyers was completely and utterly debunked by the judges. It makes no difference to him that the act was caught on tape and that the murdered Palestinian was clearly incapacitated and neutralized. It is immaterial that if Azaria thought the Palestinian man had a suicide belt, one of the defense’s arguments, his actions would have made even less sense and endangered more of his surrounding comrades. All this is too complicated for Israeli politicians like Bennett. Who has time for details when political points are to be had? Bennett and others like him have become so adept at riding the waves of incitement to further their personal agendas, it is their second nature.
Avigdor Lieberman, a convicted child beater and Israel’s Defense Minister said:
“this is a harsh verdict. I ask we all respect the court’s ruling and show restraint. What is important – despite the harsh verdict – is that the defense establishment help the family and this soldier. I call on the public not to lambaste the IDF and the defense establishment. We must respect the ruling.”
You know we live in surreal times when Lieberman, who has been charged with numerous corruptions in the past (e.g. see here) and has come out with some of the most vile and racist statements on record, preaches about respecting the rule of law.
Since the announcement of the verdict the judges involved in the case have been threatened on social media to the point where they have been assigned a security detail by the IDF. The few Israeli voices calling to respect the rule of law and come to terms with the severity of Azaria’s deeds, such as Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, have been threatened, ridiculed and called out as “traitors” by significant numbers of Israelis.
It is an especially dark day when a war criminal like Ya’alon, who presided over “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014 with its thousands of Palestinian deaths and injuries, serves as any kind of moral beacon. In 2002 Ya’alon said:
“The Palestinian threat harbors cancer-like attributes that have to be severed. There are all kinds of solutions to cancer. Some say it’s necessary to amputate organs but at the moment I am applying chemotherapy.”
Last May Ya’alon resigned from the Israeli government due to his loss of faith in Netanyahu and the PM’s encouragement of “extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society that threaten its fortitude,” forces that “are trickling into” the military. Ya’alon knows a thing or two about extremism and about the Israeli macho military culture.
But let’s be clear: this is not the first summary execution of a Palestinian by an IDF soldier nor will it be the last. It was just coincidentally captured on film, and consequently caused an uproar that led to an unavoidable trial. Elor Azaria is not a rotten apple and Israelis are indeed correct in calling him “the child of all of us”. He is a mirror unto mainstream Israel.
The Azaria case was the ultimate trial of Israeli society. A disastrous precedent has now been set: cold-blooded murder of Palestinians has been officially sanctioned by the Israeli mainstream and the political class, and the perceived rule of law severely undermined. No more hiding behind words like “collateral damage” when employing missiles dropped by F-16s or drones. Israeli politicians have declared an open season on Palestinians.
The precedent set by this case will further solidify the complete dehumanization of Palestinians and pave the way for further ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Those hoping for some sort of American intervention that will avoid this catastrophe are delusional- the incoming Trump administration will certainly not stand in Israel’s way and will likely even support it with arms sales and diplomatic immunity.
By Yoav Litvin