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A prison sentence that tells the true story of the occupation

An 18-month prison sentence for Elor Azaria, who shot and killed a wounded Palestinian attacker last year, is a reminder that the occupation has no place for law and justice.

Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who shot dead a disarmed and injured Palestinian attacker in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016, is surrounded by family and friends as he awaits to hear his sentence in a courtroom at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, on February 21, 2017. (Jim Hollander/POOL)

Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who shot dead a disarmed and injured Palestinian attacker in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016, is surrounded by family and friends as he awaits to hear his sentence in a courtroom at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, on February 21, 2017. (Jim Hollander/POOL)

There was something about the Elor Azaria trial that felt scripted. I only spent three days in court last year, watching Azaria testify, but while there I spoke with many other journalists who had been there for the entire trial. Oddly, despite the in-depth interrogation of every detail, everyone with whom I spoke felt the same way — that the trial’s outcome felt predetermined. In an article I wrote for Haaretz at the time, I noted:

Despite all the details and despite everything hanging by a thread, every journalist I spoke to similarly estimated the results of the trial in advance, with almost no connection to what was happening in court: Azaria would be found guilty but would receive a relatively minor sentence. There were also rumors among the journalists that the lawyers on both sides were part of this equation. After all, such an outcome would be in the system’s clear interest.

It turned out to be an accurate forecast: the judges struck a harsh tone when finding Azaria guilty last month, yet handed down a minimal 18-month jail sentence Tuesday morning. Azaria may well not end up serving the entirety of that prison term.

As it happens, it wasn’t necessary to attend the trial in order to see what was coming. The incident in Hebron, where Azaria executed a wounded and disarmed Palestinian attacker, was clear from the video footage, as was the fact that the army could not ignore the event once it had been publicly exposed. If it had not prosecuted Azaria, the message to every soldier would have been that they can behave however they see fit and get away with almost anything simply by citing “operational considerations.”

There is also a much more essential element at play here. Israel’s ability to avoid finding itself in the International Criminal Court over the actions of its security forces in the occupied territories largely depends on the military’s mechanisms for conducting internal investigations. If the army doesn’t occasionally discipline its soldiers for violating operational procedures, Israel’s politicians and generals could, eventually, face justice in The Hague.

On the other hand, the IDF has long failed to grasp its duties as an impartial sovereign entity in the occupied territories. The army’s role, aside from the obvious task of preventing terror attacks and protecting settlers, is to win a battle of consciousness — to make clear to Palestinians and Jews alike that Israel is able to maintain the occupation for as long as is required. When we take into account the general atmosphere surrounding Azaria’s trial — the massive public support for the soldier — it is clear why his punishment needed to be as light as possible. It is for this reason that the compromise — a stinging conviction ruling combined with a minimal prison sentence — was struck.

The only problem is that the sentencing has no legal logic. If Azaria did indeed shoot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head in order to avenge the wounding of his friend and to deter future attackers — as the prosecution set out and the court accepted — then he deserved a far heavier punishment. On the other hand if he truly felt imperiled, as the defense claims, then his sentence should have been much lighter.

Azaria’s punishment was decided in the political realm, not by the courts, in a compromise that characterizes the occupation’s conflicting needs at any given moment. Law and justice are not the story of the occupation.

This article was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here. Translated by Natasha Roth.

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    COMMENTS

    1. i_like_ike52

      I would be interested to know how the Palestinian Authority and HAMAS regimes relate to Palestinians who target Israeli civilians in terrorist attacks, for the sake of comparison. Do they shun them, or do they pay them and their families salaries and name streets and parks after them?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Ike: “That’s right: Israeli streets named after Jewish terrorists. Don’t let anyone tell you different….There were 12 of them: nine members of the Irgun and three from the Stern Group, or Lehi. Two were hanged for assassinating the British minister Lord Moyne in Cairo in 1945. One unsuccessfully attacked an Arab civilian bus in the Galilee in 1938. Three participated in the 1947 Acre prison break. The rest attacked British security personnel.”

        http://forward.com/opinion/318420/the-problem-with-netanyahus-response-to-jewish-terror/

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          Ok then Bruce, would you then be willing to apply your own standards to Nelson Mandela? Here, read a bit about him:

          Nelson Mandela was the head of UmKhonto we Sizwe, (MK), the terrorist wing of the ANC and South African Communist Party. At his trial, he had pleaded guilty to 156 acts of public violence including mobilising terrorist bombing campaigns, which planted bombs in public places, including the Johannesburg railway station. Many innocent people, including women and children, were killed by Nelson Mandela’s MK terrorists. Here are some highlights

          -Church Street West, Pretoria, on the 20 May 1983

          -Amanzimtoti Shopping complex KZN, 23 December 1985

          -Krugersdorp Magistrate’s Court, 17 March 1988

          -Durban Pick ‘n Pay shopping complex, 1 September 1986

          -Pretoria Sterland movie complex 16 April 1988 – limpet mine killed ANC terrorist M O Maponya instead

          -Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court, 20 May 1987

          -Roodepoort Standard Bank 3 June, 1988

          Tellingly, not only did Mandela refuse to renounce violence, Amnesty refused to take his case stating “[the] movement recorded that it could not give the name of ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ to anyone associated with violence, even though as in ‘conventional warfare’ a degree of restraint may be exercised.”

          Or is your criticism reserved only against Jewish freedom fighters going back to how long ago?

          Reply to Comment
          • duh

            AJew, there’s a slight difference between the Zionist movement and the resistance to apartheid: the former wanted the British to occupy Palestine before fighting against them (What, was the Balfour Declaration unsolicited mail?). Nobody in South Africa asked to be occupied by European settlers.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Only in your weird world.

            We had as much right to be liberated from oppression as the blacks of South Africa.

            Reply to Comment
          • Chris

            “Only in your weird world.”

            No, only in your psychotic Zionist brain are self-hating fakestinian-zio Jew invaders, colonizers, ethnic cleansers and terrorists conceivably “freedom fighters”.

            “We had as much right to be liberated from oppression as the blacks of South Africa.”

            No, you incontinent fakestinian-zio Anti-SemiteJew kapo, your foreign criminal gang of violent fakestinian-zio Jew invaders, colonizers, ethnic cleansers, terrorists and mass murderers never had any “right” to a even a square inch of Palestine.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            🤠

            Reply to Comment
          • duh

            Instead of explaining why it’s absurdly stupid to liken the Yishuv to the South African blacks under apartheid, I’ll let Chaim Weizmann do the work for me.

            From “The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann Series B,” 141-2:

            “We very often have officials who are used to dealing with natives, and they have very different cliches. They give him soap and water, clean him up, build roads for him, and if the native behaves himself it is all right; if he does not, he suffers. We do not fall into these cliches. We are not natives; we are a complex white people.”
            (Testifying before the Peel Commission, 26 Nov 1936)

            It would surely scandalize a lot of Zionists to know Weizmann referred to the Palestinian Arabs as “natives.” And the fact he’s making these remarks at all indicates the Zionists had a relationship with the British similar to that of the Dutch Afrikaners.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            I am glad you convinced yourself by quoting Weitzman out of context and probably misinterpreting what he said. But you have not convinced me.

            Think about this: just because Arabs too lived here for a few hundred years, it does not mean that Jews don’t belong here. It does not mean that this is not our land too.

            Why shouldn’t have Weitzman referred to Arabs as natives? Anyone who lives in a land for a few hundred years has a right to be associated with the land. But why does that render us Jews as non natives? Why does it render us strangers in our ancestral homeland?

            Only in the weird world of some extremists, Arabs and antisemites are Jews strangers in our own ancestral homelands. The very same antisemites who only a few decades ago viewed Jews as strangers in Europe and America and many of them used to taunt Jews and said hateful things like: “filthy Jews go back to Palestine”!

            Reply to Comment
          • Chris

            “Or is your criticism reserved only against Jewish freedom fighters going back to how long ago?”

            Your foreign gang of fakestinian-zio Jew invaders, colonizers and ethnic cleansers are filthy terrorist scum, not “freedom fighters”.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            🤣

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “…strangers in our own ancestral homelands….”

            But Noam Scheizaf draws an important distinction you fail to acknowledge.

            http://972mag.com/why-i-oppose-recognizing-israel-as-a-jewish-state/78751/

            “…Because a “Jewish” state – as opposed to a state whose culture is Jewish or is “a national homeland” for Jews – will always be a racist, discriminatory state….”You

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            A Jewish state is no more racist than dozens of Muslim and Christian states. Only racists single out Jews and accuse us of evil for doing what others freely do without being afraid of criticised for it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Noam clearly shows why these assertion of yours are false.

            Reply to Comment
    2. carmen

      Disgusting and sadly no surprise. And what a shameful, though not a new message to give to israeli youth – you’ll get a slap on the wrist, no problem, you can kill as many of them as you want, your rabbi says its okay and so does the court. What’s the ICC? What’s the penalty for turning children into murderers? How do you explain that to your creator?

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        “Disgusting…”

        The only thing which is disgusting is Carmen’s selective conscience which is once again on display.

        This soldier killed a terrorist in a fit of temper. He is being punished for it.

        Contrast that to what Palestinian Arabs do when one of their own murders Jewish women and children.

        1. They heap them with praise for their “heroic actions”.

        2. They shelter them and hide them.

        3. If they get caught, they reward their families by giving them pensions.

        4. They kidnap Israelis and hold them to ransom in exchange for the murderers of Jewish women and children.

        5. They demand the release of convicted child murderers in exchange for a fake willingness to sit down with Israel to pretend to negotiate peace terms.

        Bask in your fake selective conscience Carmen and show to the world what a fake you are. Take a bow. You only impress your own kind.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          @AJew (from AnotherJew):

          “63 wells destroyed, 5310 trees, 150 doors: a chronicle of the occupation in Hebron district…Shooting at homes and civilians, theft of property, stealing of gold coins, smashing contents of homes, taking computers, mobile devices, cameras, and DVD players, raiding institutional supplies, gas stations: 1150 cases…”

          http://mondoweiss.net/2017/02/destroyed-chronicle-occupation/

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “@AJew (from AnotherJew):”

            BS!

            Mondoweiss?

            Mondoweiss = Pravda.

            Better sources please!

            That is unless you are willing to accept quotes from Arutz Sheva? There you are, that’s a fair offer, no? Your biased source against my biased source. Any objections?

            From AJew to a fake Jew.

            Reply to Comment
          • Chris

            “From a suicidal fakestiniam-zio Anti-SemiteJew kapo to a real Jew.”

            [FIFY]

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            😛

            Reply to Comment
    3. Peter

      He’s right. Good chance that, without the video (the videographer’s life has been threatened) there’s a good chance that this wouldn’t have been prosecuted at all… but it was only partially due to the message to other IDF soldiers… but mainly, due to the fact that the eyes of the world at large were on this.
      Thanks, B’tselem for making this public.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Baladi Akka 1948

      Let’s not forget: the trash Elor Azariya is a dual French-Israeli citizen, and back just after the execution French pro-Palestinian activists spoke about an eventual trial here if the sentence in Israel was too light. Even a trial in absentia would be great. At least he couldn’t move his dirty ass outside the-Only-Democracy.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        What about a trial outside of Palestine/Israel of Palestinian Arab terrorists? Even a trial in absentia. For instance the new leader of Hamas in Gaza who was released as a ransom for a kidnapped Israeli soldier.

        Here. Read about him. His name is Yehya Sinwar. Remember that name. He is destined to die with his shoes on but not before he will inflict a lot of suffering on both his own people and innocent Israelis. One only needs to look at his face. He has the cold face of a seasoned killer. Those eyes of his are cold and without pity.

        “Going on to found Hamas’s security branch, his job included punishing “morality” offenders and killing Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel”

        Note the word SUSPECTED. Death for merely being suspected. That’s Palestinian Arab morality for ya.

        Reply to Comment
        • Chris

          “Note the word SUSPECTED. Death for merely being suspected. That’s Palestinian Arab morality for ya.”

          Says 972mag.com’s resident amoral Arab-hating fakestinian-zio anti-SemiteJew bigot.

          Here’s some self-hating fakestinian-zio Jew “morality” for ya to choke on, psychotic Anti-SemiteJew:

          From EI:

          “On 1 August 2014 — a day Palestinians have come to know as Black Friday — the Israeli army initiated its deadliest act of butchery during its 51-day war on Gaza, bombing men, women and children in an effort to kill one of its own soldiers in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

          When the dust settled, anywhere between 135 to more than 200 Palestinian civilians were dead, including 75 children. With the morgues full to capacity, medical workers were forced to store the corpses of small children in vegetable refrigerators and ice cream coolers to accommodate the high volume of dead bodies, producing some of the most haunting images produced by the 51-day offensive.

          Using eyewitness testimony, satellite images and multimedia documentation of the carnage, researchers at Forensic Architecture, based in Goldsmiths, University of London, reconstructed the Black Friday attacks. This allowed them to determine that the Israeli attacks were aimed at locations believed to be harboring the soldier Hadar Goldin, leading Amnesty to conclude that the Israelis were trying to kill Goldin with no regard for the harm inflicted on civilians.

          “The ferocity of the attack on Rafah shows the extreme measures Israeli forces were prepared to take to prevent the capture alive of one soldier — scores of Palestinian civilian lives were sacrificed for this single aim,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program.

          Based on statements made by Israeli officials and soldiers, Amnesty also concluded that the attacks were partly motivated by vengeance for the capture.

          Hannibal

          Just before a temporary three-day humanitarian ceasefire negotiated by Egypt and the United States went into effect on the morning of 1 August, a unit of soldiers from the Israeli army’s Givati Brigade conducted a tunnel incursion southeast of Rafah on the order of its commander Ofer Winter, an ultranationalist religious Zionist who exhorted his troops to holy war in Gaza.

          It was there that they encountered a team of Palestinian resistance fighters and exchanged gunfire. Two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian were killed in the ensuing firefight, while another, Goldin, went missing. It was later determined that Goldin died in the gunfight, but in the immediate aftermath the Israeli army operated under the assumption that he had been captured alive, putting into motion a bloodbath of epic proportions.

          Goldin’s alleged capture led to the implementation of the Hannibal Directive, a classified Israeli military protocol authorizing firepower to prevent a captured Israeli soldier from being taken alive, even if it means killing the soldier and hundreds of civilians in the process.

          Hannibal was crafted in the 1980s to deny Palestinian or other Arab resistance groups a bargaining chip down the line while relieving Israeli leaders of the political fallout from having to make concessions — such as prisoner swaps — to secure a captive’s release.

          On Ofer Winter’s command, Israel unleashed a torrential downpour of at least 2,000 bombs, missiles and shells on 1 August alone. Half of the explosives were fired within the initial three hours of the operation on an area bustling with civilians who had just returned home for what they believed was a ceasefire.”

          Note the word HANNIBAL. That’s self-hating fakestinian-zio Jew “morality” for ya.

          Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        “Occupation…”

        Let’s not even talk about Hamas. It would be too hard for you, Bruce.

        But for 8 long years, Abbas “the peace maker” has refused to negotiate without setting preconditions.

        So, even any half wit (like Chris) knows deep down that without negotiations there cannot be peace.

        Without peace, the occupation won’t end (even that half wit Chris knows that).

        What to do?

        Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      “Ok then Bruce, would you then be willing to apply your own standards to Nelson Mandela?…Or is your criticism reserved only against Jewish freedom fighters going back to how long ago?”

      AJew, what do you mean, Bruce’s standards? He pointed out that the Palestinians’ standards are the Israelis’ standards. He didn’t “reserve” criticism for anybody.

      The example of Nelson Mandela is telling. Nelson Mandela spent TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS in prison on Robben Island, EIGHTEEN of them in solitary confinement. Confined to a small cell, the floor his bed, a bucket for a toilet, he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He was allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes. And when he got out he had already made peace. He was free of hatred. He fostered truth and reconciliation. He was an unbelievably strong person.

      Elor Azaria will spend LESS THAN EIGHTEEN MONTHS* confined, never in solitary, no doubt in vastly more comfortable conditions doted on with family visits and care packages and a whole circus of adoring attention. And when he gets out he won’t be fostering truth and reconciliation to say the least. He is a very weak person. And this weak person is semi-glorified by the right and the whole affair revealed rampant extremism in Israeli public opinion.

      What could better reveal the peculiar bubble of self righteousness to which the Right confines itself and throws away its own key?
      ______
      *(The army will likely decide that Azaria’s prison term will include the 11 months he has already spent in “open detention.” Fancy that. “Open detention.” Under those circumstances, he could be out in a few months, if not weeks.)

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        Typical Benny. He jumps to conclusions and always but always the wrong ones.

        I was not comparing Mandela to Azaria.

        I responded to Bruce’s post about his comments about “old Jewish terrorists” and how we name streets after them. Do try and keep up Benny.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Oh I never said you made a direct comparison. My points still stand.

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            You quoted me and then made “your point”. And your point is as relevant as the phase of the moon in relation to what I said.

            Reply to Comment
    6. carmen

      The faux outrage from the ziombies on these pages is as predictable as the sunrise. Sometime soon a school will be named after him, a street, a roundabout, a park. In the grand tradition of the zionist cult, this murderer will be honored. And the collective conscience of the zionist state says nothing but ‘what about’….’fakestinians’….’never existed’….’who was their king’….and more genocidal talk = action brought to us by the only democracy in the middle east.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        “Occupation…”

        Let’s not even talk about Hamas. It would be too hard for you, Bruce.

        But for 8 long years, Abbas “the peace maker” has refused to negotiate without setting preconditions.

        So, even any half wit (like Chris) knows deep down that without negotiations there cannot be peace.

        Without peace, the occupation won’t end (even that half wit Chris knows that).

        What to do?

        Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordin Halevy

        Carmen, even “Palestinian” leaders admit that the “Palestinian people” do not exist.. That is the problem..

        Reply to Comment
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