'Neutralize' a Terrorist? Just Say a Bullet to the Head

The trial of Elor Azaria is teaching us the meaning of 'neutralized.'

Avigdor Feldman.
Avigdor Feldman
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
Avigdor Feldman.
Avigdor Feldman

On Sunday, without warning, the washers in the enormous laundry room beneath our feet suddenly stopped. Suddenly, instead of the susurrus of the machines, the rush of the water and the shriek of steam, silence reigned. It took some time to process, to realize what had happened to the white noise that has been part of our lives for many years.

A moment before we adjusted to the quiet, the confident voice of the security officer of Hebron’s Jewish community, Eliyahu Liebman, said, “A shot in the head is a means to neutralize [a terrorist].” Then additional voices murmured, as if Jaffa’s exotic military court were haunted: “The terrorist was neutralized,” “the girl was neutralized,” “the woman holding a kitchen knife was neutralized,” “the boy who fled the scene was neutralized.”

It’s so simple. Why didn’t you say before “a bullet to the head, “a bullet to the head,” “a bullet to the head”? “A bullet to the head” — so clear, manly, resolute, Israeli. Elor Azaria, everyone’s son, was meant for a historic role in Israeli society: to rip off the fig leaf covering its nakedness, to stop the historical “word laundering.”

It fits, like a finger to a trigger, to Efrat Lechter’s interview with The Shadow (rapper Yoav Eliasi) on Channel 2 on Friday. The language of wimps like Benny Begin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Tzachi Hanegbi and everyone Eliasi quoted in his lisping voice is being replaced by the language of rappers — a raised palm moving up and down, index finger miming the trigger of a pistol being pulled as the rapper screams “Bullet to the head, bullet to the head” at full volume. The audience mirrors his movements in unison, roaring, “Bullet to the head, bullet to the head, bullet to the head,” as though gangsta-rap group N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), writers of “Fuck tha Police,” were on stage, straight out of Compton, California.

You ask yourself how long it will take before he pulls a real pistol and a 5.56 mm bullet makes its way, at a speed of 700 meters a second, toward the right head.

But it isn’t Ice Cube, Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg, on stage, a band that came from ghetto, like those who sang angrily in the late 1980s against police brutality against blacks, against the killing of Rodney King, but Yoav Eliasi, no small wimp and crybaby himself — we almost saw tears in his eyes when he told Channel 2 that he can’t get gigs because of his views — who isn’t singing with the oppressed, the tortured, and the killed, but is connected to the violent elite and encourages the firing of another bullet in the head of a neutralized Arab.

What behind-the-scenes forces worked to bring Azaria to trial and risk stopping the Laundromat? Because a Laundromat that isn’t stopped quickly enough will resume operating, and indeed, a day after Liebman’s bullet in the head, the Military Police questioned a soldier who shot dead an unarmed Palestinian in Silwad, who turned out to have been shot in the back. Since when does anyone look at the back of a dead Palestinian? It’s clear that it was all a coincidence, unfolding in a manner no one envisioned, a defense minister who operated on anachronistic instincts whom they forgot to tell that they changed the rules, Knesset members who jumped at the opportunity, lawyers who, as lawyers will, sought exposure, television and talk shows, and the thing snowballs until the Azaria trial turns out not to be a “bullet to the head” but a bullet in the back of the military and political systems, which encouraged “neutralizing” neutralized Palestinians, an oxymoron that Liebman helped us to resolve.

Will they reopen other cases of “neutralizing” that have already been closed, or that were never even investigated? According to a Haaretz report, since 2000, including during the second intifada that claimed so many victims, both Israeli and Palestinian, only four soldiers had been charged with manslaughter.

All the other cases, and there were hundreds, were closed with no investigation, after the cancellation of the old order by then-Military Advocate General Amnon Straschnov to investigate every instance of a civilian death.

Of those who were prosecuted for killing a Palestinian, three reached plea agreements that resulted in conviction on the lesser charge of improper use of a weapon, resulting in very short prison terms or no imprisonment at all.

Only one soldier, Sgt. Taysir al-Heib, was convicted of manslaughter in the death of peace activist Tom Hurndall and was sent to prison for several years. It was the Bedouin sergeant’s bad luck that Hurndall came from a prominent British family that was close to the British government, which exerted enormous pressure on the Israeli government. Otherwise, his fate would have been the same as that of the soldier who killed British photographer James Miller, or the bulldozer operator who killed peace activist Rachel Corrie, neither of whom were prosecuted. (Full disclosure: This writer represented Hurndall’s family.)

The person responsible for security in Hebron’s Jewish community is just the tip of the iceberg that is floating toward the neutralization ship, whose lights are dimming and dance music is fading.

Azaria’s lawyers, who apparently haven’t themselves decided whether Azaria was acting in accordance with the tribal spirit that asserts that no terrorist or pseudo-terrorists may emerge alive from any incident, or whether he really believed that his life was at risk, have promised to bring much heavier guns to testify. Generals Uzi Dayan and Danny Biton are waiting in line. It will be interesting to hear what they have to say about what happened on the bridge while the boilers were whistling, the wood was being thrown into the furnace and the Palestinians were being neutralized.

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