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.


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Larry Derfner

I was born in New York in 1951, grew up mainly in Los Angeles, began my career in journalism in 1981, and moved to Israel in 1985. I live in Modi'in with my wife Philippa and sons Alon and Gilad.

4 thoughts on “Elor Azaria, the ‘Hebron shooter,’ got a fair sentence”

  1. Murder and manslaughter diverge on whether there can be reasonable expectation that the act could have been averted by the assailant. Voluntary manslaughter hinges on whether the heat of the moment caused the killing; it requires something which overrides internal consideration not to do the act, such as passion or mental disturbance. In the present case, the first cannot be asserted; the assailant was just sitting there, stood up, and fired. Employing the second requires a cause for the mental disturbance, and that cause would have to be the occupation. So the lad would have to be held incapacitated through deployment. This, essentially, is what the IDF did by charging manslaughter. Yet the prosecution employed intent in its case, a 2nd degree murder measure.

    The IDF can be viewed here as negotiating with the nation, really, here, parents, over the discipline of its youth. The manslaughter charge, I believe, is wrong in law, under the prosecution’s own case; but manslaughter is employed to reduce term and stigma, bowing to the love of youth forced into circumstance everyone wishes otherwise. If the boy is wronged here, so is the law, which is refused for a national compromise. Note that if the IDF were volunteer this logic would be harder to sustain. Both police and volunteer army are not coerced into their roles, so the implicit “mental disturbance” of this case become much harder to sustain.

    I would say as outsider that you are right that the occupation created this lad, and that in the world he matures into his response is no longer seen as too abnormal; thus the mental disturbance is occupation itself. But I think you are wrong in so far as the law has been abandoned in this case by the prosecution itself saying the lad had intent which is minimally 2nd degree murder; the prosecution did not argue that a deranged intent was produced via occupation service. Thus the prosecution actually voided its own charge of manslaughter. This disregard of legal reasoning is another consequence of occupation life.

    1. Thanks, Greg – interesting points. But objectively, why would this be second degree murder and not voluntary manslaughter? (Tho I can’t make out much difference between the two.) He knew the soldier who was stabbed, he was pissed off and wanting revenge. Plus, his environment and upbringing caused in him what could pass for “diminished capacity,” the defense in the Patty Hearst case – Israel has a cult-like influence on its citizens with regard to attitudes about Arabs.

  2. Very educating. You shade light on important considerations that I skipped.
    The definition of murder, though, still stands.
    I agree that, given the overall malignant fascism around – he should not be made a scapegoat to sanctimonious minority (meaning: me, and the likes of me).
    This “Hebron Shooter” affair only makes me sad. Very.

    1. Thanks a lot, Ittai. You know, I looked up “second-degree murder” and “voluntary manslaughter” and there’s no difference between them that I can tell. Maybe I was too adamant about saying it wasn’t murder, under the legal definition. Talk to you.

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