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Hebron Shooter Elor Azaria Is Indeed the Norm

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Scene from a video released on March 24, 2016 by B'Tselem showing IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria  aiming his weapon before shooting in the head and killing a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron.
Scene from a video released on March 24, 2016 by B'Tselem showing IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria aiming his weapon before shooting in the head and killing a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron.Credit: AFP

There’s one thing on which Palestinians agree with Elor Azaria and his supporters: that he wasn’t the only one, he just had the bad luck to be videotaped without his knowledge. Palestinians agree with Azaria and his supporters that he was complying with the norm and did exactly what other soldiers do – namely, shoot with intent to kill even when nobody’s life is in danger.

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Palestinians agree with Azaria that the system discriminated against him. It’s just that they believe dozens of other soldiers and policemen should also have stood trial.

Like Azaria himself, Palestinians are wondering why he stood trial while the soldiers who killed Hadeel al-Hashlamoun of Hebron were never even investigated by the Military Police. She, too, was lying on the ground, after soldiers shot her from a distance at a checkpoint because she held a knife (which no soldier was even scratched by). And then, while she was lying there, they continued shooting her in the upper body. (This was on September 22, 2015, and Hebron residents attribute the subsequent outbreak of lone-wolf attacks to this incident.)

On June 11, 2010, Maxim Vinogradov, a Border Policeman, “confirmed the kill” of Ziad Jilani, who was already lying on the ground, shot and wounded, after having run over other policemen with his car in Jerusalem’s Wadi Joz neighborhood. The prosecution decided against indicting Vinogradov, accepting his ridiculous claim that he feared Jilani had a bomb. He was in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood – why would he blow himself up there?

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Fadi Alloun of Isawiyah was also lying on the ground, after having stabbed an Israel in Jerusalem’s Musrara neighborhood on October 4, 2015. An anonymous policeman shot him to death after passersby encouraged him to do so. In this case, there was video footage from a cell phone, but it wasn’t enough for any steps to be taken against the killer.

Sara Hajuj of Bani Naim pulled a knife on Border Policemen inside the security-inspection room of a Hebron checkpoint on July 1, 2016. They sprayed her in the face with pepper spray and fled the room. Then one of them shot her, while she was alone in the room and didn’t endanger anyone.

On June 2, 2016, Ansar Hirsheh crossed the checkpoint at Anabta, where pedestrian traffic is forbidden, on foot. She had a knife in her belongings, but she didn’t endanger anyone. And there was no reason why the four armed, trained soldiers who surrounded her couldn’t have overpowered her without killing her.

Over the past year and a half, dozens of Palestinian men, women and children have been killed, even though according to both eyewitnesses and common sense, they could have been overpowered while they were still alive. Some, it later turned out, hadn’t even attempted to commit an attack. Dozens of soldiers, Border Policemen and checkpoint guards are walking free among us after having killed Palestinians who posed no danger to their lives. The defense establishment portrayed them as having acted properly.

The boundary between self-defense and nationalist vengeance has been completely blurred. This is the atmosphere in which Azaria operated.

Therefore, the message sent by the military court judges stands out for its rarity: Elor Azaria violated the rules of engagement, so he was convicted. But the message the Israeli defense establishment sends to its soldiers and policemen is equally loud and clear: “Take care that you aren’t videotaped when you do the deed. We know how to downplay the value of photographs taken by Palestinian security cameras and bury the testimony of Palestinian eyewitnesses. But we still haven’t found the solution to close-up, professional video footage.”

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