(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Judging by the exaggerated media coverage and political reactions, the manslaughter trial of IDF soldier Elor Azaria was a cosmic event, massively important to Israel and the Jewish people, like the Dreyfus and Eichmann trials.
It should not have been that way.
The case involves an IDF sergeant who killed a terrorist who no longer posed a threat, in cold blood and out of revenge, as the military court determined in its verdict.
In most situations in life, the difference between good and evil in combat is clear to people; between what is moral and what is immoral; between what is allowed and what is forbidden. It is forbidden to kill prisoners in cold blood who have surrendered.
Tensions running high shortly before verdict in Hebron shooting case given to Elor Azaria (credit: REUTERS)
It is forbidden to kill terrorists who have been neutralized.
A commander’s orders must be obeyed, and the rules of engagement must be followed.
Elor Azaria failed in this basic tenet of humanity.
His supporters on the Right attempted to leverage his story in order to advance their own goals. The politicians continue to score political points out of it. They and others are trying to force the IDF to accept norms that are characteristic of tyrannical regimes, military juntas, murderous gangs and mafias.
Luckily, they were blocked by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the senior command of the IDF, and the military legal establishment, all of whom refused to give in to political pressure. Unfortunately, it still comes from cabinet ministers who have no shame and no finesse. Unlike them, luckily, senior military commanders, as well as the IDF’s legal establishment, still care about the army’s image, its principles and its codes of behavior, and still see themselves as members of Western civilization who believe in morality, conscience and the rule of law.
However, this battle is yet to be won.
Not only because Azaria’s punishment has yet to be determined – and the truth is, the punishment he is given is less important than the principled verdict that was given – and not because someone convicted of manslaughter has the right to appeal and could even be pardoned. There have been similar cases, even more extreme than Azaria’s in this regard. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) operatives who were involved in the murder of two terrorists who were captured alive in 1985’s Bus 300 affair, were pardoned by then-president Chaim Herzog, even before they were put on trial.
The battle is not over, because the evil winds blowing from certain parts of Israeli society will continue to threaten every reserve of goodness left in this country, among which the IDF is still counted, despite its being an occupation army.
At the end of the day, Azaria and his family are also deserving of compassion for the eight-month ordeal they have gone through. They became, willingly or not, a symbol for right-wing groups, even though this was their own private tragedy. They still do not understand that the supporters demonstrating for them, raising money for them and identifying with them did not do so for the Azaria family. They did so to advance their own agendas. Sooner or later they will abandon the poor sergeant and his family and find themselves a new symbol on whose back they can ride.