Opinion

An Apology to Elor Azaria

Elor Azaria receives a hero's welcome upon his return home after spending a stint in jail for shooting a motionless Palestinian attacker in Hebron, in Ramle, May 8, 2018
\ Ilan Assayag

Elor Azaria is entitled to protest repeatedly that the army discriminated against him, and army officers are entitled to answer him as follows: Next time you execute an Arab, make sure there are no cameras filming you. Next time, act like that anonymous Israeli policeman who shot and killed a young paramedic, Sajed Mizher, at 6:30 A.M. on March 27, while he was on his way to treat a man with a gunshot wound on the main road of the Deheisha refugee camp.

Study the difference, Azaria, the army will tell him. And then it will twist the knife it stuck in his back: Every week we kill a few Arabs, make sure there are no photographs and then report that they were terrorists. Our version of events is holy. Two or three troublesome journalists ask questions, and we provide answers, but they don’t get to the point. The articles are published and our hero sons are protected by their sacred anonymity.

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With every Palestinian killed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the army reminds us of how empty and hypocritical its statements of revulsion at Azaria were. But the army’s pretenses of morality are no longer necessary to earn the embrace of national leaders. Not when those leaders are Donald Trump and Viktor Orban. Not when demands to rein in Israel’s colonialism are defined as anti-Semitism in France, Britain and Germany.

In Israel above all, hypocrisy is unnecessary. All testimony, investigative reports and articles about the ease with which our soldiers kill unarmed Palestinians will in any case vanish here without leaving any impression. Just like reports on the deaths of two young men, Amir Dar Daraj and Yusef Anqawi, disappeared without a trace.

Here’s a reminder: On March 4, an armored Israel Defense Forces vehicle got stuck on the road while en route to making a nighttime arrest in Kafr Na’amah, west of Ramallah. The car Amir and Yusef were in crashed into the armored vehicle, which didn’t have its lights on. An officer and a policeman were wounded. Soldiers opened fire at the driver and his companion. It was a car-ramming attack, the army told journalists.

Someone actually did photograph this. Granted, it was dark, but the sounds on the video can be heard clearly. Immediately after the collision, a single shot was fired. Four and a half minutes then elapsed before the other nine shots were fired – four and a half minutes. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit didn’t bother responding to questions about why the soldiers shot and killed the two Palestinians four and a half minutes after the crash.

Israeli human rights NGO B'Tselem sent the dead men’s clothes, which the soldiers stripped off them, for a forensic examination. The complete results are being published here for the first time.

It was cold. Yusuf was wearing a shirt with black and white stripes, a beige sweater and a black sweater with red and white triangles. All three garments had three bullet holes in the back, on the left shoulder. Amir was wearing a green warmup jacket and a brown and gray sweater. Both garments had four bullet holes in the back, on the left shoulder.

These seven holes are the type of holes that would be created by a high-velocity rifle shooting from a distance, the forensic report said. Amir’s warmup jacket also had six holes in the waist area, and his sweater had five holes in the same area. Some may have been made by ricochets or shrapnel, but they, too, match the type of holes made by a high-velocity rifle.

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Yet why should that bother the military lawyers? The soldiers confiscated the footage from the security cameras at a nearby carpentry shop; the damaged car was also confiscated and the bodies haven’t been returned to their families, in line with the accepted practice of revenge. And whether a serious military investigation does or doesn’t happen makes no difference: The IDF is defending the soldiers who killed Amir and Yusef. Unlike Azaria, they killed in the dark. Sunday morning, the IDF took care to send a special military force to remove a sign erected on Saturday in memory of the two who were killed.

Altogether, IDF soldiers killed 17 Palestinians in March. An army that covers up the deaths of Amir and Yusef shouldn’t be believed no matter what stories it tells about the deaths of the others.