THE FATHER of convicted Sgt. Elor Azaria (center) prays behind him in a military court during a remand hearing for his case last March.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The trial of Elor Azaria is unique in Israeli history. Never before has a soldier been put on trial for the murder, or manslaughter, of a terrorist. This trial sets a devastating precedent by exposing IDF soldiers who engage terrorists to legal action by the IDF.
The reason this trial is so compelling is because we take it personally. We or someone we know was or could have been in Azaria’s place. It’s as if we too are on trial.
It is also about the reputation of the most revered institution in Israeli society: the IDF.
This trial reveals a deteriorating relationship between Israeli society and the IDF that is tearing Israel apart. It is a symptom of the politicization of our basic institutions, which are dominated by judicial activists who are extreme leftists.
The trial was an attempt by the court and prosecutors to defend the principle of “purity of arms” which restricts the use of force as defined by the IDF’s Code of Ethics. This has become an issue because organizations such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, and media such as Haaretz and The New York Times, accuse the IDF of condoning murder and committing war crimes. Not only was Azaria on trial, so were the IDF and Israeli society in general.
If that is true, then Azaria did not and could not receive a fair trial. If the court’s judgment was influenced by concern for how the international community would react, he was doomed from the beginning.
To make matters worse, as if admitting its guilt, a day after the verdict the IDF returned the bodies of the terrorists to their families; their funerals were attended by thousands who glorified them as martyrs. Meanwhile, Azaria is treated as a criminal, condemned by his commanders.
The court ignored the critical context of the shooting: the incident occurred in a conflict zone in which Jews – civilians and soldiers – are constantly attacked by terrorists.
The court ignored the reality that in fact we are at war, not in a “peace process.”
By punishing a soldier, the court is seeking to clear the IDF of responsibility. Moreover, having condemned Azaria before and during the trial, the reputations of prominent IDF officers such as former chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon and the current chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, who approved the trial, and the local commanders were on the line.
The court sought to send a message of caution and self-examination, but that should not have been done in a trial.
Finally, the court ignored the well-established distinction between enemy combatants who have surrendered, are in custody and pose no danger, and wounded terrorists who are still active and potentially dangerous.
The court’s decision has confused this crucial distinction, and therefore undermines the effectiveness and safety of those who defend us and endangers the security of our country.