Former military advocate-general: IDF must be fair to its own, but deal with crimes severely

Polls have shown strong public sympathy with Azaria, and there have even been social media attacks on his commander, Maj. Tom Naaman, who testified against him.

June 29, 2016 00:07
3 minute read.
PARTICIPANTS AT THE recent Jerusalem Center for Ethics conference are (l to r) legal commentator Pro

PARTICIPANTS AT THE recent Jerusalem Center for Ethics conference are (l to r) legal commentator Prof. Moshe Negbi, former military advocate-general Maj.-Gen. (res.) Danny Efroni, former maj.-gen. and head of the IDF Manpower Directorate Orna Barbibie, and former brig.-gen. and paratroopers commande. (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)


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The IDF must show “fairness and decency” to all of its soldiers even when they have failed in their duties, but must also “deal severely” with criminal violations, former military advocate-general Maj.-Gen. (res.) Danny Efroni told a conference in Jerusalem on the Hebron shooter.

Sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Ethics, the conference on Monday was titled “The Soldiers, They Are Our Children Until…” and focused on debating what kind of support the state must give its soldiers who have violated their duties. The conference comes in the shadow of the trial of Elor Azaria that has mesmerized the nation.

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Azaria is charged with manslaughter for fatally shooting Abdel Fatal al-Sharif on March 24 in Hebron.

Al-Sharif was initially wounded and neutralized while trying to attack IDF soldiers with another Palestinian, but by the time Azaria shot him dead, he allegedly presented no threat.

Many observers say that the war of words between politicians over whether to support the IDF legal division – which is prosecuting the Hebron shooter – or support Azaria for shooting a terrorist in a tense situation led to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firing Moshe Ya’alon as defense minister.

Ya’alon had unequivocally supported the IDF legal division, and Netanyahu has appeared more neutral, even showing public sympathy to Azaria’s family.

Polls have shown strong public sympathy with Azaria, and there have even been social media attacks on his commander, Maj. Tom Naaman, who testified against him.

Efroni wrestled with the meaning of “to give support” to the army, and appeared to reject the public’s seemingly selective support for soldiers versus officers and the legal division.

“I don’t accept at all how people have done this,” he said. “The army is the army of the nation, they are our children, but also officers, generals and the chief-of-staff should get the same support – they really do their jobs out of a sense of commitment to the public, are even ready to give their lives, and they should all expect to receive support from society.”

Drawing a line in the sand, Efroni also said even as they receive support, soldiers must follow morality and the rules of engagement. They must also “be ready to refuse an order which is blatantly illegal. We are a state of law, the IDF is an army of law, and we must deal with those who break the law even if it happens in war. There is no impunity from crimes in an operational context.”

With Efroni sending veiled messages of support for the IDF prosecution and criticism of Azaria, former brig.- gen. and paratroopers commander Harel Kanfu came out more directly against the Hebron shooter.

“I saw both the long and the short videos, and the information on social medial,” said Kanfu, and that the shooting “looked completely disgraceful… to shoot at someone lying on the ground, who presented no danger, and no more danger to him than to the others.”

Kanfu added that Azaria is “not a hero…a hero is someone who risks his life to save someone else.”

Moreover, he said, if there had really been explosives, Azaria should have moved everyone away from al-Sharif, and should not have fired on him since in the past a soldier did this, leading to an explosion which injured him and his commander.

Orna Barbivai, former maj.-gen. and head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, slammed many of those mouthing off in public, saying they cannot understand what was happening without having been there, and without operational experience.

She also blasted as “complete foolishness” people who criticize the army saying it “supports commanders, but not its soldiers,” meaning that it covers for higher-ranking officials, but leaves low-level soldiers out to dry when things get heated.

Earlier speakers with academic backgrounds described the phenomenon of the public debate over the issue, with one social media expert showing how in only three days – from March 24 to March 27 – the public swung from evenly divided to overwhelmingly supporting Azaria.

Professor Dani Stataman of the Jerusalem Center for Ethics said that society must also contemplate whether the media accurately presents events, or intentionally incites and agitates the public by focusing on narrow sensational pieces of a story.

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