Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot is right. Elor Azaria isn’t everyone’s child, but he’s definitely the child of some of us. He’s a child of the military units on the ground, in daily friction with Palestinians, not a child of the good guys from the elite 8200 cyberwarfare unit or from the air force, the ones who drop a one-ton bomb on Gaza that kills entire families, while noting only a shudder of a wing tip, all under the auspices of the law and the Israeli mainstream.
Azaria is the child of the new Israeli right, one which looks Mizrahi and is characterized as devouring Arabs, while being subjected to years of incitement by politicians. He’s not the successful and enlightened child of upscale Rehavia or some kibbutz, one who voted for left-wing Meretz and galloped through the streets of Tel Aviv in that wondrous summer of social protests in 2011, enjoying a tailwind from mainstream media. He is the child of poorer neighborhoods, in this case one in Ramle, in which the blogger-rapper “The Shadow” and the extremist and racist La Familia group are more popular than that “transvestite,” Bibi.
Azaria is not a child who attended some elite school, one whose treatment by the courts we’re all too familiar with, a propos equitable treatment by law enforcement and the justice system, with one reminded of the problematic statement by former Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak (“This court is a family, one can’t bring in someone who isn’t part of it”).
Azaria, let it be noted, is not the only one who coolly shot a Palestinian, a live, dying or already dead one – he’s just the only one captured on film. Various civil groups report that such incidents occur frequently, that it’s an inevitable result of a military dominion over another nation. Besides, as everybody knows, this is the IDF spirit: to despise Arabs, to fear them, to view them as despicable murderers, as people lacking a narrative, whose only motivation is hatred of Jews. The popular term for this is “poisoned,” expressed as a compliment, not an insult.
One should also remember the public arena, particularly the statements made by public officials who gave free advice to citizens and confused soldiers when the knifing lone-wolf intifada was raging through our streets, thereby preparing the ground and even driving Azaria to shoot an “incapacitated” terrorist.
And yet, I’m convinced that if Azaria had landed in our midst from another tribe, that of the hegemonic class, things would have looked completely different. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have been arrested and tried. The B’Tselem cameras left no other choice. However, I’m sure that the introspection would have taken a different course.
We would have heard more about the army’s responsibility to its soldiers, about the inevitable chaos that comes from a prolonged rule over another nation, about the unclear rules of engagement, about the corrupting contact between settlers and the army. We mainly would have heard more about the futile occupation and its results. Oy, the hegemons would have sighed, where did we go wrong? What is it in the system that criminalized one of our best, exposing our shame?
I’m not calling for going easy on Azaria. As far as I’m concerned, he should fully pay for his actions. A decent society must draw red lines that apply to everyone, but this insane roller coaster must be stopped, it is again fostering alienation between the street and the establishment and its branches, leading people to think that yet again they’ve been abandoned.
It’s time for a true public stock-taking, not just about the occupation and its disastrous consequences, but about hierarchies in the army, which direct Mizrahi conscripts to the Border Police and to hatred of Arabs and Ashkenazi ones to elite units, in which killing Arabs is a remote-controlled act of heroism. Being cannon fodder for the hegemony, which is again burnishing its conscience on the back of an ordinary Mizrahi soldier, is a very unpleasant thing.
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