The judges in Elor Azaria’s trial made the natural decision. They couldn’t defy the spirit of the commanders of the military and civilian justice systems, which have long since decided that Palestinian lives are cheap and Palestinians’ freedom should be taken lightly. Here are three examples:
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1. What does a Palestinian need to do for a military judge to sentence him to 18 months in jail? Just throw stones, with or without a slingshot, without hurting anyone. In July 2015, the Knesset legislated stiffer sentences for stone-throwing, thereby giving the military courts a green light to follow suit.
In June 2016, the deputy president of the military court of appeals, Brig. Gen. Zvi Lekach, accepted the military prosecution’s appeal of the sentence imposed on two Palestinian stone-throwers, “especially in light of the new legislative amendments.” He doubled their six-month jail sentence to 12 months, while maintaining the 2,000-shekel ($540) fine imposed on one of them.
“If the appropriate sentencing range for throwing stones without using tools like a slingshot is six to 18 months in jail,” he wrote, “then use of a slingshot requires a different range. In my view, the appropriate range for someone who uses a slingshot is 12 to 30 months in jail ... A suitable suspended sentence should also be added.”
This ruling thus set a minimum below which prosecutors and judges cannot go.
2. As the satirical TV show “Eretz Nehederet” put it, Azaria’s only crime was being filmed. Ramzi al-Qasrawi was also shot, together with his comrade Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, when the two of them stabbed a soldier. According to testimony taken by the B’Tselem organization, as Qasrawi was lying wounded, before Azaria killed Sharif, another soldier shot Qasrawi in the head or neck from a few meters away. But that wasn’t filmed, so it’s the Palestinian witnesses’ word against that of the army inquiry.
Dozens of soldiers, border policen and security guards are walking free, with no fear of standing trial, even though over the past two and a half years, they have killed or seriously wounded Palestinians – male and female, young and old – who didn’t endanger their lives or never even intended to attack them.
3. In December 2011, a soldier named Aviram shot a tear gas grenade from his jeep directly at Mustafa Tamimi, who was seriously wounded in the face and died the next day. Tamimi and others had thrown stones at the jeep after the dispersal of the weekly demonstration in their village, Nabi Saleh, against the theft of their lands by the settlement of Halamish. The soldier said he didn’t see Tamimi, and the case against him was closed.
The family filed a civil suit, which Jerusalem District Court Judge Tamar Bazak-Rappaport rejected 10 days ago. She even charged the family court 60,000 shekels costs.
Approaching roads outside Nabi Saleh and throwing stones “are acts of terror, hostile acts and rebellion,” she explained. “Sending in a bulldozer and three armored jeeps to fight this activity and prevent it clearly bears a military nature.”
The judge’s father, incidentally, is retired Judge Yaakov Bazak. In July 1985, he headed a panel that sentenced the 15 convicted members of the Jewish Underground, a Jewish terrorist group. At his recommendation, most received lenient sentences. Seven years later, then-President Chaim Herzog pardoned the three who were convicted of committing murder at the Islamic College in Hebron.
It’s not the pro-Azaria demonstrations that determined his lenient sentence. The judges were following a long, safe trail of legal precedents which determine that Jewish military occupation constitutes law and order, while the struggle against it is a crime.