Hebron Manslaughter Case Highlights Different Perspectives on Morality

Any treaty on the handling of terrorists would not be of greater value than the IDF's code of conduct, which has resolved the killing of 546 children in advance.

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
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Soldier Elor Azaria attends his trial at the Jaffa Military Court on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.
Soldier Elor Azaria attends his trial at the Jaffa Military Court on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.Credit: Nir Keidar
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

Five hundred and forty six children, 180 of them babies and toddlers up to the age of five, were killed by Israel Defense Forces fire in the military operation launched by Israel in the Gaza Strip in 2014.

These updated and verified figures, released by the human rights group B’Tselem, have been ignored in Israel, Gideon Levy wrote on Thursday. He wondered how it was possible that “the figures that should have haunted society” don’t arouse its interest.

Dear Gideon, how can Israeli society take time for “a stormy public debate” about the killing of children when it’s busy with a “historic event” that is no less than “a watershed in Israeli society” — the shooting of a wounded terrorist 11 minutes after no one would have really cared if he died?

The attempts outside of court to exempt Elor Azaria from responsibility for the shooting, moral or legal, have a similar logical structure. Azaria is portrayed as an especially accurate representative of a distorted moral perception, which is no less than “zeitgest.” Therefore, it’s not fair to blame only him for it. According to this explanation, Azaria is only a “simple soldier,” so the political and defense leadership, which is identified with his perverted worldview, should be put on trial with him.

Another variation portrays Azaria not as a representative of a distorted world view, but as a man incited to the point of falling victim to a false moral and political consciousness. In other words, he doesn’t even bear joint responsibility for his acts. According to this view, Azaria must be freed and the “entire state” must be put in the dock.

But another interpretation for Elor Azaria’s acts can be heard outside the courtroom, to the effect that he is a hero. A real hero, not as a result of a perverted morality. The hero of a healthy moral code, certainly no less healthy than the moral code which deems the death of 546 children inevitable and even necessary “collateral damage,” which arouses at most a feeling of slight unease.

Many of those who believe terrorists must be killed ( as Azaria is said to believe, at least before the trial began,) don’t exclude themselves from the moral sphere but claim that the moral sphere binds all those who adhere to it. This approach distinguishes between warfare morality and the morality of fighting terror. While combatants should be protected by international treaties, it could be argued that terrorists aren’t entitled to any protection, because they intrinsically strive to undermine a world conducted according to these treaties. Those who think terrorists are doomed to death believe that upholding this rule continuously will lead to reducing terror, as well as reducing the harm done to the truly innocent.

Terrorists, they could argue, don’t abide by the proper logic of war, nor by the logic of guerilla warfare. So, for example, a wounded terrorist may blow himself up while receiving medical treatment. This possibility increases the risk factor, leading medics, for example, to refrain from taking the risk of treating a wounded assailant (as they would in time of war.)

Undoubtedly, such discussions are held in the minds of all those who find themselves in modern battlefields, which are often the main streets of major cities. Undoubtedly, the issue must be discussed, and perhaps international frameworks are the appropriate place to hold such a discussion, even if in principle there’s no way of producing an orderly treaty from it. Certainly not a document of greater value than the “IDF’s ethical code,” whose author, Prof. Assa Kasher, has resolved the killing of 546 children in advance.

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