More national than Habima Theater, more popular than the popular theater of the late Avraham Deshe (Pashanel), more representative than the Knesset and more indicative than the polls — let’s welcome the Israel Defense Forces Theater, sitting as a military court. It’s the most authentic reflection of society, the country’s real High Court of Justice.
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It’s an epic production with dozens of extras; the reviews are flattering, and the audience goes wild. The costumes (IDF uniforms) are nothing special, and neither are the scenery, lighting and makeup – “absentee” property in Jaffa or a barracks in the Kirya (army headquarters), neon lights and metal benches. But the play is excellent – current and relevant, representative and indicative – and the ending is always predictable.
There’s nothing more Israeli than this court, and nothing more authentic than its sentence in the case of soldier Elor Azaria. Once again, we have the cloak of self-righteousness, once again the deceit, once again the façade of due process, with a defense, a prosecution and summations. Once again, it’s the best show in town, and once again, the crying injustice is present without our feeling it, just the way Israelis like it.
What Israelis like most is to eat their cake and have it, too, and who knows better than the military court how to supply the goods? A rousing verdict about “the value of the sanctity of life,” and a sentence fit for a bicycle thief.
We don’t need The Hague; we have the Kirya. The fact is that a soldier who killed – not to say murdered – an already dying Palestinian in cold blood, with malice aforethought, was put on trial, and even punished. Where else in the world can you find such things? In America? In Europe? The most moral army in the world, assuredly the most moral. Kudos to the IDF and its justice system.
This is how most Israelis would like to see their judges: talking loftily about justice and equality – on condition that they apply to Jews only. Talking about the sanctity of life – but calculating the value of a Palestinian’s life as less than that of an (Israeli) dog. That’s exactly what the Azaria verdict gave them.
Azaria left the court as a national hero, in a country where everyone who kills an Arab is considered a hero and there are almost no heroes who didn’t kill Arabs. The court once again told Israelis what they most wanted to hear: Palestinian lives are dirt cheap; they’re on end-of-season sale.
This is the same court that has judged hundreds of thousands of Palestinians with severity and cruelty over the decades of the occupation. With more and more judges (and prosecutors) being settlers, devotees of international law and equality before the law, this military court, which sits in the occupied territories, is Israel’s most refined perpetrator of apartheid. There, at the Ofer army base and the Etzion lockup, far from watching eyes, there’s one law for Jews and another for Arabs, with no hemming and hawing.
In this, too, the court reflects society, far more than the Supreme Court in Jerusalem does. A Palestinian Azaria would of course have been sentenced to life in prison in a speedy trial, without “his family’s distress,” “an outstanding soldier,” “a clean record” and “special circumstances,” without asking what went through his mind or what had happened in his life. You killed a Jew? You tried to “spill Jewish blood”? There’s only one sentence.
This institution also knows how to richly reward and protect IDF soldiers and officers, just as the people want it to do and as their commanders expect it to do, and to turn its trials into perversions of justice. Only in this court could a senior officer like Ofek Buchris, who was charged with rape and sodomy, emerge with the draconian sentence of being demoted by one rank. That’s how cruelly the court treated him.
Just like the IDF Orchestra isn’t an orchestra and Army Radio isn’t a media outlet, this court is not a court. But it is even more corrupting than the first two examples: It sends its demobilized metastases into the civilian justice system.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit came up through this rotten environment, and so did more than a few judges, including some on the Supreme Court, who are convinced that they were doing justice all those years. They carry with them the glorious legal traditions of the prefab buildings at Ofer, and those traditions remain etched in them forever.