The voice of a soldier-child caught in tragedy

At this point in the court martial, if one were to place a wager, the safe bet would be on a guilty verdict. Azaria will not hold-up under cross-examination.

July 25, 2016 00:59
2 minute read.
hebron shooter

Trial of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, July 5, 2016. (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)


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Almost everything about babyfaced Sgt. Elor Azaria’s testimony on Sunday will be disputed. But one thing is crystal clear – the voice of the Hebron shooter as he testified in the Jaffa Military Court was that of a child caught in the midst of a tragedy.

Azaria, 19, is not tall. His face belies his tough appearance as a combat soldier. Maybe because of that, Azaria’s highpitched, childlike voice contrasts so sharply with the baritone orders of his commanders heard on a video after the IDF medic executed Abed Fatah al-Sharif on March 24.

In front of a courtroom filled with media, Azaria looked nervous. He repeatedly took deep breaths, trying to hold himself together.

As the youthful soldier described the tension between Jews and Palestinians in Hebron and the stress he was under, his mother and father started balling.

Their bodies convulsed. But Azaria’s young sounding voice cannot clear him of the substantial evidence on the charge of manslaughter the prosecution has assembled against him.

Even for those who view him as the cause of his own tragedy, it is hard not to feel the bigger tragedy that Azaria is ensnared.

Caught up in the broader conflict in Hebron and the ongoing intifada, Azaria was called to treat his wounded friend stabbed in a terrorism incident. His description of how, having treated that knife wound, his hands were covered in his friend’s blood, was chilling.

This is not what your average teenager occupies himself with.

Independent of whatever he might have done, Azaria is a pawn in a larger tragedy.

For those who view him as having acted in self-defense, he is a pawn in the hands of IDF commanders who did not hear him out, too caught up in setting him up as a scapegoat to push off international criticism following the video of the killing that went viral.

Without hesitation or standard visceral indications of lying, Azaria forcefully contradicted his commanders about why he shot Sharif, and what he told them about it.

If Azaria is lying in an effort to save his own skin, then his lawyers coached him well to lie ruthlessly, without blinking, just as shot Sharif in cold blood.

Part of any observer at Sunday’s court martial must hope the young soldier is telling the truth so they can sympathize with the clear feelings he expressed of being betrayed by the IDF. That sense of being thrown to the lions jumped out from Azaria’s facial expressions when he talked about his former commanders.

At this point in the court martial, if one were to place a wager, the safe bet would be on a guilty verdict. It seems likely Azaria will not hold-up under cross-examination.

Still, whether he caused his tragedy or not, whether he was a coldblooded killer or not, the sight of this young man and his young voice struggling with his actions is another sign of the greater tragedy surrounding the country.

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