Justice is not a partisan issue

This is not a Left or Right issue, as unfortunately it has panned out to be. It is an issue of whether we are a civilized nation operating within ethical and judicial norms of behavior.

By SHIRLEY ZAUER
November 21, 2017 20:48
4 minute read.
SUPPORTERS OF Elor Azaria cheer.

SUPPORTERS OF Elor Azaria cheer as he leaves his home heading to the military prison in Rishon Lezion in August. (Reuters). (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Finally, someone has shown some common sense: President Reuven Rivlin has denied a pardon to convicted killer Elor Azaria, noting that he had already had his sentence reduced by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

Contrary to popular opinion, Azaria is one lucky immature hothead: first he was charged with manslaughter in a military court when he could – and perhaps should – have been charged with murder. Second, after Azaria had been handed a ludicrously short sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment, Eisenkot buckled to intense political and public pressure and cut it to 14 months. And third, even though he had been discharged from the army by the time of his sentencing, Azaria is serving out his time in a military prison, where he is no doubt being treated as a hero.

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These are the bare facts of the “incident” for which Azaria was charged, as accepted by the court: on March 24, 2016, in a neighborhood of Hebron, IDF medic Sgt. Elor Azaria shot and killed an unarmed, incapacitated Palestinian terrorist who was lying on the ground. The terrorist, with an accomplice, had moderately wounded an IDF soldier. The terrorists had both been shot during the attack; the accomplice died soon after. Azaria did not witness the incident and was some distance away at the time. Approximately 11 minutes (number in dispute) elapsed between the initial attack and Azaria’s action as judge and executioner.

A video of the incident, that went viral, shows the scene before and after, leaving these facts clearly in evidence, including the fact that someone tampered with the position of the terrorist’s knife, which can be seen first far from him, then close by.

At trial, the court dismissed all Azaria’s defenses and concluded that the terrorist posed no immediate risk and was shot extrajudicially.

Let me be clear: I have no sympathy for terrorists and believe that they should be eliminated during an attack. However, if they survive and are merely incapacitated, they are subject to the IDF’s Rules of Engagement which state that shooting to kill applies only when there is a threat to the lives of others. When this is not the case, the legal process takes over.

This is not a Left or Right issue, as unfortunately it has panned out to be. It is an issue of whether we are a civilized nation operating within ethical and judicial norms of behavior.

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Tragically, there have been few voices on the Right proclaiming the primacy of those norms, which apply to even the most evil murderer.

While we don’t have a death penalty in place, existing legal procedures and penalties apply and are to be carried out by the appropriate authorities.

It is equally tragic that cabinet ministers, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (for whom I once had high expectations), and others in high places have abandoned all reason and have joined the cacophony of voices that have been calling for Azaria’s total exoneration since that March day and now decry the president’s most sensible act.

One of the catch-cries of the Azaria supporters has been that he is “everybody’s child”: well, he is not my child, and my own three sons and my son-in-law, who all served in the IDF, have unanimously and unequivocally condemned his actions.

There is another troubling aspect of this whole sorry saga that I have not seen addressed anywhere: in pictures of the scene before Azaria’s arrival the wounded terrorist is seen lying, unattended, on the ground with two ambulances standing just meters away from him. Civilians and military personnel are visible milling around. Why is he still on the ground, alone, several minutes (exact number in dispute) after he has been shot? No one seems to be concerned that he might be a further threat and, equally, no one seems to care that he might be in need of medical care.

Again, I stress that I am in no way a terrorist sympathizer; however, as an individual who feels bound by the laws of God and the laws of Israel, I know that either set of laws would cover the rights of a wounded individual in this set of circumstances.

This is not out of consideration for the terrorist, but for us as ethical beings.

In the meantime, now that the legal adviser to the President’s Office has conveyed to Azaria that “an additional lightening of your sentence would harm the resilience of the Israel Defense Forces and the State of Israel,” it is certainly past time for all players and observers in this melodrama to show some restraint and dignity and allow the law to take its course without any further theatrics.

The writer is a journalist and a former senior editor at The Jerusalem Post.

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