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Elor Azaria takes a victory lap in Hebron: He’s still not the problem

Azaria, the Israeli soldier who was recently released from prison after executing an incapacitated Palestinian stabbing suspect, gets a hero’s welcome at the scene of the crime. Ultimately, however, he is not to blame. We are.

By David Sarna Galdi

Elor Azaria, the former Israeli soldier who was convicted of executing an incapacitated Palestinian stabbing suspect, returns to the scene of the crime, Hebron, West Bank, July 3, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Elor Azaria, the former Israeli soldier who was convicted of executing an incapacitated Palestinian stabbing suspect, returns to the scene of the crime, Hebron, West Bank, July 3, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Watching news footage of Elor Azaria visiting Hebron feels like watching O.J. Simpson partying in Brentwood after his release – it makes you sick to your stomach; it forces you to question your country’s values.

In March 2016, Azaria, then a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, killed an incapacitated Palestinian knife-attack suspect as he lay bleeding on the ground in Hebron. On Tuesday, two months after serving a nine-month prison sentence, he visited the scene of his crime. Azaria was invited by Hebron’s Jewish settlers, a band of 1,000 fanatics whose squatting in the city, supported by the Israeli government, acts as a deadly choke-hold on its 220,000 Palestinian inhabitants. Palestinians’ movement is restricted by checkpoints, their stores are forcibly closed to create “Jews-only” streets, and their children are forced to live in the crosshairs of heavy guns carried by teenagers like Azaria.

In fact, watching Azaria is worse. At least O.J. didn’t rejoice at the murder scene itself. Imagine if, in 1969, U.S. authorities had allowed Charles Manson to return to 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles, to sniff Sharon Tate’s blood. That’s what it felt like watching Azaria.

“It’s fun, after two-and-a-half years, to return here,” Azaria said on camera, smiling ear to ear, to the applause of the crowd of Israeli settlers gathered around him. Fun?! Instead of somber reflection, Azaria retraced his bloody steps, singing and dancing with a crowd of his fans, in the exact spot where he took another person’s’ life.

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Azaria’s disgusting victory parade reveals Israel’s rotten underbelly: a hate-filled place where, right or wrong, people delight in murder and climax with schadenfreude at the misfortune of the people they oppress.

Then there’s the hypocrisy, which Azaria highlights again and again. How could “the most moral army in the world” punish a Palestinian girl for slapping an Israeli soldier with eight months in prison, and concurrently punish an Israeli soldier for killing a Palestinian youth with only nine? How could Benjamin Netanyahu, who, on every possible podium, blames Palestinian acts of violence on incitement, not rebuke Azaria’s display of unapologetic, morbid celebration? How can anyone who abhors Hamas’ hate-speech sit by and watch a group of Jews dance on the grave of a dead Palestinian?

I have compared Azaria to O.J. Simpson before. There’s no better comparison for the Israeli who killed a man, beat the system, and garnered the adoration of many of his fellow citizens. And like with Simpson’s trial, Azaria, the criminal, is not the only one to blame for the Kafkaesque spectacle of which he is the center.

Elor Azaria gets a festive reception upon his release from prison for executing an incapacitated Palestinian suspect in Hebron during his IDF service, Ramla, May 8, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Elor Azaria gets a festive reception upon his release from prison for executing an incapacitated Palestinian suspect in Hebron during his IDF service, Ramla, May 8, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

First, we could blame consecutive Israeli governments for sending a young soldier to risk his life for the sole benefit of a group of extremist settlers. We could blame the right-wing politicians that abused and distorted the Azaria trial to pander to their constituencies. The prime minister of Israel crossed all borders of decency by calling the family of the suspected killer to offer sympathy. Then he fired his defense minister, at least in part for denouncing the soldier/killer and defending the army’s reputation. We could blame the military court that reduced Azaria’s murder charge to manslaughter and handed him a lenient 18-month sentence. We could blame the IDF chief of staff who reduced the sentence, and then the parole board that reduced it even further, despite the fact that Azaria never admitted guilt or even expressed remorse for his actions.

If Azaria and his motley crew had any real media savvy, they would have used the PR opportunity in Hebron to reiterate his innocence by blaming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the 51-year occupation for the horrible events of March 24, 2016. Azaria is so popular in Israel that with a little savvy, he could translate his celebrity as an Arab-killer into a seat in the Knesset, or at least, a reality TV career.

Israeli soldiers stand as palestinian walk in the center of the Israeli-occupied city of Hebron, on October 29, 2015. Stabbing attack, Hebron, 29.10.2015 The city of Hebron has seen escalating violence in last weeks. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers watch as a Palestinian family walks down a street in the occupied city of Hebron, West Bank, October 29, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Azaria is not innocent but he is just a cog in the machine. It is indeed the occupation that’s to blame for the worn-out, threadbare souls of both the oppressor and the oppressed, leading a young Palestinian to decide to attack an Israeli soldier and leading a young Israeli soldier to shoot a Palestinian like an animal and then celebrate over his dead body, like a gladiator.

Ultimately, however, we have to blame ourselves, the Israelis. The colosseum spectators. The armchair occupiers. We have allowed the occupation to grow and distort our logic. We callously watch as Gaza decays. Azaria fired the shot, but we fed him the hateful ideology that made him trigger-happy. We gave him the gun to aim at civilians and sent him to guard Jewish outlaws in Palestinian streets, surrounded by people starved of self-determination and robbed of hope.

If we call Azaria a barbarian, what does that make us?

David Sarna Galdi is a former editor at Haaretz newspaper. He works for a nonprofit organization in Tel Aviv.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lisa

      I agree with the point of this piece, but O.J. Simpson is the wrong analogy for too many reasons to get into here. George Zimmerman is a much better analogy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lonzo

        I strongly agree with your comment Lisa.

        Reply to Comment
    2. itshak Gordin Halevy

      Every Israeli who eliminates a terrorist by doing his duty to the community is a hero. The terrorist tried to kill one of our boys.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Halevy’s typically simple-minded reply here does not merit comment except to note how it supports the author’s case as to what the average Israeli is like.

        Except excuse me for asking inconvenient questions, Halevy, but I’d like a word with you about this word “terrorist.” This is the big lie. Why in the first place is a resister of a brutal occupying military force a “terrorist”? Your “boys” are grown up, armed, uniformed soldiers who know exactly what they are doing. You want to explain? It is not illegal to resist an illegal military occupier of one’s land. Was it illegal for the French Resistance to resist the military occupiers of Paris in 1942? What gives you license to call him a “terrorist” other than the Israeli habit of calling all protest and all resistance “terror”? Azaria’s crime is a war crime. On the face of it. He shot dead a captive, disabled prisoner. In cold blood. How is that better than the way the occupiers of Paris in 1942 behaved? “Eliminate” is the verbiage of mobsters, gangsters, organized crime. But see my comments about character.

        None of this is meant to champion violence by anyone or contradict David Sarna Galdi’s main point about the armchair occupiers. On the contrary.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      There is something about the culture. Or as the highly placed American intelligence officer said, when an Israeli agent was caught red handed climbing out of Vice President AL Gore’s bathroom air duct,

      “You can’t embarrass an Israeli,” he said. “It’s just impossible to embarrass them. You catch them red-handed, and they shrug and say, ‘Okay now, anything else?'”
      http://www.newsweek.com/israels-aggressive-spying-us-mostly-hushed-250278

      Reply to Comment
    4. Hello

      Itshak, What is the Final Solution to the Terrorist Question? They must be Eliminated.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Bruce Gould

      @Jennifer Newman: “Whether or not executing that terrorist once he was incapacitated was the right thing to do can be debated.”

      Then let’s debate it. What’s your opinion on whether it was the right thing or not?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        @Bruce Gould: OK, but before you debate that, realize that Ms. Newman has snuck in deceptive terms ahead of time: “terrorist…random person.” She’d like you to simply assume these terms and then go on to debate the merits executing terrorists who kill random people.

        Well, no.

        Azaria committed a war crime. In cold blood he, a soldier, shot to death a captured, disabled prisoner who was captured and disabled while attacking a uniformed soldier (i.e., while stabbing a soldier, lightly wounding him)
        —which armed unformed soldier was part of a military force openly, illegally, brutally, occupying his city at the time of the attack. That occupying soldier was not “a random person” minding his own business picking flowers or going for a stroll. The disabled attacker was anything but Manson-like.

        This is not to champion violence by anyone anywhere, at all, but that soldier was actively deployed in carrying out a program of organized violence, in uniform—the organized and not so organized violence of the occupation, which itself is in fact a highly organized form of terror against random persons. If you dispute that ask any Palestinian adult or child dragged randomly out of his randomly chosen house at 3AM for no other purpose than to terrorize the population.

        Newman sneaks in preliminary terms of debate that themselves need to be challenged before the debate even begins. Otherwise the “debate” is itself a kind of trick.

        Reply to Comment
    6. itshak Gordin Halevy

      Elor Azaria is a national hero. His name has become one of the most popular in Israel for boys and girls.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        One can always count on Halevy to make the author’s point for him

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordin Halevy

          What Haaretz writes does not matter here in Israel. Elor shot a terrorist who tried to attack our soldiers in the holy city of Hebron where our patriarchs and matriarchs rest. He did a great job whatever Haaretz thinks. We are very proud of him.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Halevy you have the strangest way about you. I always get the feeling that the point goes right by you. And you combine brutality and blitheness. As only a fanatic can.

            Everything you say is consistent with the point this author is making, Halevy. It confirms Sarna Galdi’s thesis.

            Clearly, your hypernationalist religious variant sect of Judaism, as you understand it, celebrates soldiers behaving dishonorably and committing war crimes and perpetrating cold blooded murder. It’s an interesting thing you admit to, to say the least.

            “Great job…we are very proud of him.” So this is Judaism according to Halevy?
            And moreover, this is, as you put it, “the official Israeli Judaism…which is authoritative throughout the world”? Yeah? Wow. You have more problems than you know.

            And aside from your particular sect (and it’s just a sect—there is no “authentic Judaism”) one gets the sense that you as a person take a kind of primitive, celebratory delight in others suffering because life outside the tribe is worth very little to you. Your rabbis teach you this, apparently.

            One more point which you will miss again but I’ll say it anyway. The man who stabbed and lightly wounded the soldier was a desperate resister of a 50-year illegal hostile military occupation; by definition not a “terrorist.”

            Reply to Comment