Elor Azaria is embraced by his mother as his father stands nearby, at the start of is sentencing hearing at a military court in Tel Aviv, Israel February 21, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At last the trial of the year is over and the now Pvt. Elor Azaria is going to prison.
The Jaffa Military Court’s lenient sentence of 18 months for manslaughter has not ended the saga, as an appeal is expected to keep public anger simmering.
A nation that has been split over the trial has yet to accept that justice has been served, but it is time to move on.
Extremists on both the Left and the Right are unhappy with the sentence. On one hand, there are many who regard the 19-year-old former sergeant and combat medic as a murderer, based on the viral video of the execution-like killing in Hebron last March.
The terrorist was incapacitated, lying on the ground bleeding to death when Azaria calmly shot him in the head.
Of all the defense arguments, the most ridiculous was Azaria’s story – one of five he changed during his trial – that he suspected the supine terrorist to be wearing an explosive vest.
A suicide bomber does not attack soldiers with a knife – he or she blows them up.
On the other hand, there are those who think of the young soldier as “our son,” an IDF hero who should be praised for killing a terrorist attacker.
On the contrary, presiding Judge Col. Maya Heller said the court found that Azaria’s actions had harmed the core values of Israeli society and violated the “purity of arms” of the IDF’s ethical code.
As Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the capital’s Shalom Hartman Institute, wrote in The Jerusalem Post
last month, the fact that Azaria is indeed “our son” does not excuse his actions... Sgt.Azaria is our son, but he is a rebellious son, a son who broke the law and our moral code.”
Cynical right-wing politicians – such as Avigdor Liberman, Oren Hazan, Miri Regev, Naftali Bennett and others – sought to capitalize on Azaria’s misery by leading a populist chorus of people unwilling to accept the possibility that their favorite son might be a vengeful killer, if not a murderer.
“The Right turned Elor Azaria into a hero,” analyst Yossi Melman wrote in these pages. “However, he is the diametric opposite of this.... A good soldier does not fire at a helpless, unarmed person who is bleeding to death, even if it is a terrorist who just carried out an attack.”
Azaria’s conviction sends a clear message to his comrades in arms and to the entire nation: The IDF is a moral military force that abides by its core value of the purity of its arms and will not tolerate cases when soldiers take the law into their own hands as happened in Hebron last March.
It has been said that military justice is to justice as military music is to music. This is not the case in Israel.
Our soldiers are expected to follow orders – unless these are clearly unethical – and not take upon themselves the role of public executioner, one that does not exist in the army of the Jewish state. It is for this that he is being punished.
Azaria was unlucky that his crime was recorded on the camera of a civil rights volunteer for B’Tselem – one of many cameras that help Arab residents of the West Bank document alleged settler attacks.
Israel should though be thankful for the video that captured the shooting on camera. While it caused the country diplomatic damage, it forced it to grapple with a difficult case and reinforce the ethos it has lived by for nearly 69 years – that the IDF is a moral and ethical military. The trial proved that it still is.
While Azaria is not the first IDF soldier to be convicted of manslaughter – in 2005, Beduin soldier Taysir Heib was sent to prison for eight years for killing British International Solidarity Movement activist Tom Hurndall – his case resonated far and wide.
His conviction and sentencing will now resonate throughout the IDF. It is hoped that his conduct will not be repeated.