Grumpy Old Man: Law and disorder

The sad saga of Elor Azaria has exposed the deep schisms in our society, and could merely be a dress rehearsal for an issue that’s always peeking over the horizon.

January 12, 2017 11:31
Hebron shooter

Elor Azaria sits to hear his verdict in a military court in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 4, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A military court found Elor Azaria guilty of manslaughter for killing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif as the latter lay wounded on the ground – neutralized, in IDF parlance – immediately after stabbing and wounding a soldier. Terrific. Now the big question: Should the IDF sergeant be jailed?

Azaria’s victim was no angel, but the prosecutors proved their case, the conviction was for manslaughter, and there’s a punishment that’s commensurate with the crime. Also, Azaria clearly failed to observe IDF regulations for opening fire, meaning there’s room for punishment there, too.

So why all the cries for a pardon? If anyone deserves a pardon, it’s Azaria’s parents.

Political opportunists like Sharon Gal, the right-wing media personality who decided after nine short months that the Knesset wasn’t for him, hitched a ride on the Azarias. The visibility seemed to do the family some good, giving it a sense of support, including a personal phone call from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Not to be outdone, other politicians scrounged for microphones to swear their own allegiance, whether out of ideology, like Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, or, as with ex-MK Gal, solely to keep their names in the news, like goofball Likud lawmaker Oren Hazan.

In the end, though, the Azarias got taken for a ride of their own. Dad Charlie suffered a stroke, and mom Oshra was left to wring her hands and waste away in court each day as the hovering phalanx of news photographers shoved their long, expensive lenses in her face, and witness after witness strengthened the prosecution’s case that their soldier son was little more than an immature hothead.

BUT IF THERE’S a true victim, it’s the IDF.

What amazes me is the wide selection of opinions expressed in the media addressing how the IDF should operate, whether according to this international convention or that century-old protocol, or just according to what seems logical to an armchair general or attorney- general wannabe, saying in essence (and often flat out) that Azaria was right to execute Sharif.

These pundits, professional or otherwise, bring up the Geneva Conventions and even the Balfour Declaration to establish why Azaria was within his rights – and obligations – to make sure his victim never got up again. Sharif, for example, was a terrorist, and terrorists have no rights at all (though in this case, the fact that he attacked an armed soldier muddles the distinction). And if he lived, Sharif would only have gone to prison, where he’d be able to watch a lot of TV, get a college degree and wait for the next prisoner exchange.

It’s not that there’s zero merit to these opinions. It’s just that they should be addressed to the lawmaking echelon or, at the very least, to the IDF’s ethicists, and not used in an argument as to what a simple soldier should and should not have done that day, and whether or not he is a hero.

What we seem to forget is that out there in the real world – meaning in the streets of Hebron, the towns of the Gaza Strip, a future Lebanese battlefield or merely a Jerusalem promenade – there is one set of rules and regulations for IDF soldiers, and one set only. Our troops cannot pick and choose or calculate the wisdom of one over the other. This is true even when the bullets are not flying.
And a soldier who pays attention knows the rules, no matter how much he or she might complain.

It’s no different from a stop sign that you and I think is superfluous. The cop who stops us won’t care, nor will the judge in traffic court. Until the stop sign is no longer there, we’ll have to cough up the cash for the fine and perhaps suffer the indignity of points on our driving record until the authorities finally revoke our license. They’ll do this for a good reason, and that reason is the rule of law, without which this would be the Wild West.

ALSO TAKING a shot from the Azaria case is Israeli society.

The verdict seems irrelevant to many among us, especially the nasties, uglies and crazies who slithered out from under their rocks to rain down venom and spittle on the prosecutors, judges and media, and on leftists everywhere (read: anyone who doesn’t agree with their twisted view of the world). These people ranged from the Marzels, the Ben-Gvirs and the Gopsteins, through the knuckle-draggers of La Familia, to many who could trace their deep-seated anger and frustration, rightly or wrongly, to anything Arab.

The trial and its attendant noise brought to the surface every conceivable political schism in the country, and I can promise you one thing: The matter of Elor Azaria will not go away anytime soon; no matter how long he sits in a military prison, if he does at all, he will be the darling of much of the Right, a young man supposedly exemplifying what a soldier should be and how an army should be doing its job.

All of this moved Supreme Court President Miriam Naor to warn, after threats were made against the military prosecutors and the judges who heard the case, that such behavior and beliefs constituted a “threat to the rule of law and democracy” and had “no place in a civilized society” – as if the people being addressed actually cared about the rule of law, democracy or even a civilized society.

Perhaps it’s time for us to stop calling ourselves a light unto the nations. It’s a light that’s been flickering and dimming for years.

MY GUESS is that the Azaria matter is just a dress rehearsal for the day we’re finally forced to confront the future of the West Bank and its hundreds of thousands of settlers.

The only comfort I can draw is that the people who egged on Azaria in Hebron and in the courtroom – and are still egging on soldiers and young people like him elsewhere in the West Bank – are just a minority among decent and reasonable people living beyond the Green Line. Unfortunately, though, they are far more dangerous than just one immature hothead.

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