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When Israel's leaders incite, one soldier pays the price

Elor Azaria is guilty for firing the bullet that killed Abdel Fatteh al-Sharif this past March. But let us not forget the long line of inciting comments by top Israeli leaders that made it possible.

By Noam Rotem

Elior Azaria, the Israeli soldier, who shot a Palestinian attacker in Hebron, is seen at a court hearing in Jaffa's military court, July 11, 2016. Azaria was filmed shooting the Palestinian in the head, after the latter posed no threat. (photo by Flash90)

Elior Azaria, who has been charged with manslaughter for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian stabbing suspect in Hebron, is seen at a court hearing in Jaffa’s military court, July 11, 2016. (photo by Flash90)

Sgt. Elor Azaria stood on the witness stand during his trial this past week and described what led him to fire a bullet into Abdel Fatteh al-Sharif’s head on March 24 in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood. Al-Sharif had, just moments before, stabbed an Israeli soldier before he was shot, wounded and posed no threat to anyone. Azaria fired his weapon directly at al-Sharif’s head as the latter laid sprawled out on the ground.

Since September 22, 2015, over 220 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers or police officers. Many of them allegedly took part in attacks on soldiers, policemen, and civilians. Aside from Azaria, no other soldiers or policemen were ever put on trial.

There is no arguing over the fact that Azaria was indeed the one who shot and killed al-Sharif. His line of defense has been the “justification” for the shooting, in an attempt to claim that he feared for his and others’ lives, and thus the incident will pass just like all the other ones from the last months. Some will claim that the only difference is that Azaria was caught on camera, but this is not exactly true: the officers who shot Muhammad Abu Halef in February were filmed by an Al-Jazeera crew that was at the scene — he too was sprawled out on the ground and posed no threat. The same goes for the killing of Hadeel al-Hashlamon, which took place when she was lying on the ground at a Hebron checkpoint, and many other cases. Not a single one of these incidents ended with putting soldiers or police officers on trial.

Instead of trying to justify his deplorable actions, Azaria must claim abuse of process. Two-hundred and twenty killed since October, and only one indictment for killing? Azaria, after all, did what everyone around him told him to do:

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said “I killed a lot of terrorists, too bad I didn’t kill more, anyone who raises his hand against Israel must die.” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that “every terrorist must know that he will not survive the attack he is about to carry out.” Erdan’s predecessor, Yitzhak Aharonovich, announced that “every attack must end with the terrorist’s death.” Jerusalem Police Chief Moshe Edri was quoted saying that “anyone who stabs Jews or harms innocents must be killed.” MK Yair Lapid stated that “anyone who pulls out a knife or screwdriver — must be shot dead.” MK Mickey Levy, a former major general, claimed that “terrorists must be killed, not neutralized.” This is just a small sample of leaders and public officials calling for the extrajudicial killing of anyone who tries to harm the IDF.

What do they want from Azaria?

Azaria is only the messenger. He is the weapon in the hands of those same ministers and members of Knesset who called on him and others carry out the act. He to blame, of course, for the killing itself. He is the one who pulled the trigger, but each and every one of those “leaders” are equally, if not more, to blame. Lacking an oversight and investigatory mechanism, nothing the state or the IDF did prepared Azaria for what he is now facing. Dozens of soldiers who took the lives of Palestinians are praised as heroes — Azaria, who did the exact same thing, is a villain.

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (center), who has been charged with manslaughter for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian stabbing suspect in Hebron, is escorted into military court, March 29, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (center), who has been charged with manslaughter for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian stabbing suspect in Hebron, is escorted into military court, March 29, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

None of this is to take the blame away from the soldier. He is a villain who twisted the truth for his own needs, changed versions of the story, makes false accusations against his commanders, and does everything his attorneys tell him in order to prove that firing a bullet into al-Sharif’s head was justified.

One may look at Azaria’s case as disconnected from context, in which a soldier violated military orders and killed a man who posed him no threat. This is the entire point of the military trial: to show that of the 220 Palestinians killed, one of those killings was unacceptable. The trial is meant to whitewash the rest of them, to give the Israeli propaganda machine so more room to breathe in its fight over the violent and cruel occupation over millions of people.

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist and high-tech executive. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is a blogger. Read it here.

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    1. Tommy Goldberg

      Yes, Bennett, Lapid et al. should serve alongside Azaria.

      Here is the thing, though: had Azaria assumed that his actions were permissible, he wouldn’t have tried to cover them up — seconds after the shooting. He knew he’d done wrong RIGHT AWAY.

      That makes him a murderer in my book.

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