Former Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (C), who was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for killing a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian assailant, waits to hear the ruling at an Israeli military appeals court in Tel Aviv, Israel July 30, 2017. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The scathing criticism leveled by many at President Reuven Rivlin following refusal to pardon St.-Sgt. Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier in prison for manslaughter for killing a downed Palestinian terrorist, was perplexing. The president’s decision was an embodiment of the conscientiousness and justice of the state.
Having asked 30 random Israelis their opinion on this, the majority supported the president’s decision – almost the opposite of what one might believe judging by the social media.
One of the people I surveyed told me that the soldier should be pardoned because it was complicated situation – the terrorist could have had a bomb and thus posed a danger even though he was wounded. So I watched the videos of the scene again – it was captured by several sources, from several angles – and confirmed that the terrorist was down and the situation under control for over 10 minutes before Azaria raised his rifle and shot the terrorist in the head. And there were several other soldiers in the vicinity, who were closer to the terrorist than Azaria was and thus were in a better position to judge whether he posed a threat or not.
How can anyone believe Azaria shot him because he perceived a threat? First he claimed the terrorist was lying there dead, then he claimed the terrorist was a threat because he had a knife, when actually the knife was out of reach, and then Azaria claimed the terrorist might have been carrying a suicide vest.
Azaria lied during his testimony, and he has never expressed remorse or regret; he was laughing in court, he believes he is innocent and the verdict unfair. The act itself is bad enough, but he doesn’t realize it was wrong, does not respect the law or the values of the IDF – he believes the Israeli army can kill enemies out of hate, not justice, that it is in fact not far removed from being a terrorist organization.
It’s crystal clear Azaria broke the law and violated the IDF’s rules of engagement. The president rejected the pardon because he believes that upholding the values of the IDF is more important than pandering to the majority of his irreverent people.
As president, he no doubt weighed all aspects of the case, and based on careful investigation, his decision demonstrates the courage and determination of a patriotic statesman, and it made me prouder as a Zionist.
Unfortunately, I saw the prime minister and many others in the government, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett, whom I respect, in favor of pardoning Azaria. I’m sure they know it’s a very disproportionate action to kill a disabled terrorist, and that it violates the values of the IDF and the State of Israel, but they still chose to pardon Azaria. It seems most Israeli politicians are swayed easily by the public when they need to make tough decisions.
I heard many opinions supporting the pardon.
Some claim that not granting one will weaken the IDF, impacting both recruitment and soldiers’ judgment in the field. Such fears are groundless, however. Refusal to pardon Azaria makes IDF stronger, raising the pride and confidence of our soldiers. Only a just and moral army can be truly strong.
Some accused the president of trying to curry international favor, but this, too is untenable. It is true that had Rivlin agreed to a pardon Azaria, the result would have been a PR crisis for Israel. Israel and the IDF would have been fiercely condemned by the international community. But I do not believe this was the only or even the main reason for Rivlin’s decision.
Israel and its president have many other ways to get good PR, they don’t need to sacrifice their own soldiers for it.
Some claim the nation should “show leniency and mercy” and “put an end to the affair that shook Israeli society.” Perhaps – if Azaria had confessed wrongdoing and expressed regret for his actions. But he did not.
I’m not an Israeli, and I’m neither a leftist nor a rightist, and I do not always support the government, but I do believe based on this event that I’m more of a Zionist and patriot than many Israelis. I support whatever is truly good for the nation.
Last but not least, Israel is a very democratic nation, in which anyone can say what they think. I respect this, but calling the president a Nazi is a step too far. Democracy’s purpose is to protect people’s rights, not to justify people’s personal attacks on others, especially on their legitimate head of state.
If one day an Israeli president makes the opposite decision in the same situation, with the backing of the people, I will be still a Zionist, but a rather disappointed and disgraced one.
The author is the founder of Israel Plan Organization, an NPO supporting and promoting Israel in China. He is living in Israel currently, and finishing his MBA in IDC Herzliya.