Opinion

The Friendship That Could Have Been Between Azaria and Abed

The Israeli sergeant became a national hero, while Abed Fattah al-Sharif got killed as he lay wounded for resisting a violent occupation. But the two weren’t that different.

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.
AFP

If they had met in their everyday lives, they would have found they had a lot in common. If they had met without the incitement, intimidation and hatred, they might even have become good friends. It’s not hard to imagine the two of them going out for a good time in the same clubs, hitting on the same girls, laughing at the same jokes.

They were of the same social status, and almost of the same age; only their haircuts were different. One always shaved his head while the other took pride in a designer do.

They both grew up in traditional homes; one kissed mezuzahs, the other’s grandfather wore a robe embroidered with gold. They certainly dreamed similar dreams. But they met only once, under fatal circumstances. One of them killed the other.

They were almost from the same village; they grew up in two occupied Palestinian cities, about an hour’s drive from each other. Elor Azaria grew up in Ramle, which was once a Palestinian city and is no longer. Abed Fattah al-Sharif grew up in Hebron, which has remained a Palestinian city, but under violent Israeli occupation. The Israeli Jews rule both.

Neither grew up in well-off homes, but their fates were completely different, dictated when they were born. They were trained to be enemies.

Elor Azaria arrives at court with his lawyer and family, December 2016.
JACK GUEZ/AFP
Sign up below and receive every Gideon Levy column in your inbox

Despite the similarities between them, the difference won out. One was born a free man with rights, even if he was underprivileged and deprived. The other lacked rights; he was demeaned and had no hope.

Azaria grew up into the incitement: a nationalist home, extremist surroundings, violence and racism. Abed didn’t need incitement; it was enough for him to leave his house in Hebron’s Jabal Abu Rumann neighborhood.

The Tel Rumeida checkpoint always waited for him, and with it the humiliation, bullying, crudeness, arrogance and violence of the soldiers and settlers. It’s possible to believe his father Yusri, who told me in their home a few days after his son was killed that Abed grew up in a nonpolitical home.

His father spoke with fear. His second son, Khaled, was arrested the night we were talking, a few days after Yusri lost his son.

Two months before he was killed, Abed opened a carpentry shop. His father said he was excited. He could have expected nothing more than that in his life. He never saw the sea, about an hour’s drive from his home, during his short life. It’s doubtful he ever saw a movie, and a trip abroad was unimaginable, of course.

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who was shot and killed after being wounded last March by an Israeli soldier, during his funeral in Hebron, May 28, 2016.
Mussa Qawasma, Reuters

Why did he take a knife on the morning of March 24, 2016, and with his friend Ramzi try to stab a soldier at the checkpoint? It’s hard to know exactly, but it’s easy to understand.

Since then, the similarity between Elor and Abed has been completely distorted, not just because one died. Abed lost his name and humanity and turned into a “terrorist,” a generic name for anyone who dares to use force against the occupation, whether scratching a soldier in the territories or taking part in a suicide bombing with dozens of casualties.

The only similarity that remains is the body strewn on the road like an animal’s carcass, blood flowing from his head and down the slope, settlers and soldiers around him in monstrous indifference. It didn’t occur to Azaria the medic, or to the Magen David Adom medic Ofer Ohana, to give him first aid, as required.

No one ever took an interest in his life, and now no one is taking an interest in him in his death. If he had been a street cat, his death would have aroused much more sympathy and shock in Israel. But he was unlucky. Sharif wasn’t a cat, he was a “terrorist.”

His killer became a national hero. Amazingly, he also became a victim, the only victim. Everyone knows Oshra and Charlie, his parents. Everyone has sympathy for Oshra and Charlie. No one knows Rajaa and Yusri, Abed’s parents, no one has sympathy for Rajaa and Yusri. They aren’t human, just like their dead son.

A reminder: They are bereaved parents who lost their eldest son, who tried to stab a soldier an act of resistance to the occupation. Oshra and Charlie are the parents of someone convicted of manslaughter out of a desire for revenge, and who lied brazenly in court.