Elor Azaria, the ‘Hebron shooter,’ got a fair sentence

Netanyahu government, 2015
Netanyahu government, May 19, 2015 (GPO/Avi Ohayon)

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders are imprisoned for their role in oppressing Palestinians, when Israel stops treating Palestinians as inferior beings, then it will be fair to sentence Elor Azaria, the “Hebron shooter,” to several years in prison. But since Netanyahu and the others are not only free but all-powerful, and since Israel shows no inclination to end the Palestinians’ systematic abuse and killing, the 18-month sentence Azaria got on Tuesday was the right one.

Everybody else on the left evidently thinks he got off way, way too easy for executing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif last March 24 as al-Sharif, who had stabbed an Israeli soldier with whom Azaria served, was lying all but motionless on the ground, having been shot several times by soldiers 11 minutes before. It sends the message that it’s okay to kill helpless Palestinians, and the injustice of it just screams when compared to the multi-year sentences Palestinian teenagers get for throwing stones, goes the left’s consensus argument.

But spending 18 months in prison, on top of nearly a year under arrest, in custody and on trial in a military court, is nothing any Israeli soldier wants to go through. So the 18-month sentence is clearly a deterrent on other soldiers who might get the idea of dispatching a Palestinian attacker who’s no longer a threat.

Furthermore, if Azaria were to get 18 years in prison instead of 18 months, would that make the sentences of Palestinian stone-throwers, or Palestinians period, any fairer? Should this soldier, who was 19 when he killed the 21-year-old al-Sharif, be made to pay for the legal tyranny imposed on Palestinians for the last 50 years – when nobody else is?

The reactions of Israeli politicians and the public to this affair show that Azaria, in executing al-Sharif, did not break the true, de facto law of the land, even while violating the official, written one. He was a soldier doing what his society considered legitimate, if not heroic, whatever the law on the books said.

So it would be hypocritical to make him serve several years in prison, as the left is demanding. It would also be cruel; a 19-year-old conscript should not have his life blighted like that when no other Israeli is paying the price of the occupation, and millions are benefiting from it in one way or another.

And one very important thing that needs to be remembered but that so many of my fellow leftists are forgetting is that Azaria didn’t commit murder. He didn’t kill an innocent Palestinian bystander, either. He was no Baruch Goldstein.

He didn’t plan to kill anybody. He didn’t even plan to go to Hebron; he was sent there, and when he arrived he learned that a Palestinian lying wounded on the ground had stabbed an Israeli soldier whom he knew, he reasoned that “this terrorist was alive, and he needs to die,” and he fired the fatal shot.

That’s a wrongful killing, obviously, that’s a very serious crime – but it’s not murder.

I don’t have any sympathy for Azaria as a person – from his previous Facebook postings, along with his warm words for Kach leader Baruch Marzel, he strikes me as a run-of-the-mill young Israeli fascist. But you don’t give people time in jail for their political beliefs.

The most important thing that the sentencing of Azaria needed to do was deter other Israeli soldiers from following his example, and 18 months did it. Beyond that, I cannot see singling him out for “blind” justice when the occupation’s real killers, beginning with Netanyahu but hardly ending with him, get to be the kings and queens of Israel.


How the settlers win, how the peace camp loses: Lessons from Amona

Settlers vs. Israeli security forces, Amona 2006.
Female settler goes up against Israeli security forces in West Bank settlement outpost of Amona, February 1, 2006. Photo: AP/Oded Balilty

That mob of teenage settlers in Amona throwing rocks and bleach at the police on Wednesday was another illustration, another reminder of why tyranny has triumphed in Israel and liberalism is powerless: because the tyrants – the settlers and their supporters – are willing to fight, and we liberals aren’t.

That’s the story of the settler movement from the beginning – they gather their forces to break the law, to raise hell, to scream and cry and curse, to physically assault Israeli police and soldiers, to make their removal so arduous and to use their “agony” as emotional blackmail against Israeli Jews and their leaders, until they get their way. Amona, built illegally on private Palestinian-owned land according to one Israeli High Court of Justice ruling after another, took a decade to evacuate. And in return for their so-called pain and sacrifices, the settlers will get reimbursed by the Netanyahu government many, many, many times over.

They make me sick, these brainwashed fascists who’ve taken over the country – but I can’t help but envy them. If the peace camp had shown a fraction of their daring, of their commitment, maybe we could have given the occupation a fight. If we had mobilized crowds to physically block settlement construction, if we’d been willing to go to jail, to fight the cops and soldiers, to fight the settlers, maybe the Right wouldn’t have rolled over this country like it has. Even if we would have lost – and who knows if we would have? – at least we would have put up a struggle.

But we haven’t. With no more than a handful of exceptions, the Jewish Left in Israel doesn’t fight, doesn’t go to jail, doesn’t break the law, doesn’t disturb the peace in any way. Even if we could get hundreds of thousands of people into the street today (which is a joke), it wouldn’t make any impression on Netanyahu and the Right – we’ll go home peacefully and orderly, and the occupation regime will go on with its work without missing a beat. They face no resistance.

I don’t mean to preach – I’m no braver than anyone else. I’ve never been to jail, never gotten dragged away by cops, never been in a scuffle with soldiers or settlers, and the thought of doing it doesn’t thrill me at all. But I don’t believe that we of the peace camp are going to be able to overthrow this 50-year-long tyranny with opeds in Haaretz alone, or even in the New York Times as well, or even opeds plus petitions and peace rallies. The occupation is a vast, powerful, violent, poisonous force, and for us in the opposition to think we can bring it down without making any personal sacrifice, without paying any personal price, is a lie we tell ourselves to ease our consciences, so we don’t have to face the truth that as dissident movements in history go, the Israeli Jewish Left has been notable for its gentility and timidity.

As long as that doesn’t change, Israel isn’t going to, either.


Further reading: 

Amona evacuation (Haaretz)