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Elor Azaria Is Going Through a Modern-day Dreyfus Trial

Why doesn’t former Deputy Chief of Staff Uzi Dayan just bravely declare that anyone who harms Palestinians is innocent?

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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IDF soldier Elor Azaria, charged with manslaughter in shooting death of a Palestinian in March in Hebron, in the military court in Jaffa, in April, 2016.
IDF soldier Elor AzariaCredit: Moti Milrod
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

In January 1898, four years after Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish army officer, was convicted of spying for Germany, the author Emile Zola wrote an open letter entitled “J’accuse.” In the article, Zola accused the French command of forging documents to incriminate Dreyfus. Today we are witnessing a similar trial. The modern Dreyfus is being played by Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, with former Deputy Chief of Staff Uzi Dayan starring as Zola.

The original Emile Zola attacked the French military, while the current one is attacking the commanders of the Jewish army who dared to put a Jewish soldier on trial. The first claimed forged documents, while the current Zola is claiming that worse things happened in the past and “the soldiers weren’t even prosecuted.”

Now if there’s any justice in Jerusalem, Dayan himself should be investigated. Dayan said explicitly, “I had a similar incident that was even more serious, much more serious, because five Palestinians were killed by fighters from the paratroops at the Tarqumiya crossing … they were people who were returning from work in Israel … I said, now you make an commission of inquiry for three days … the soldiers didn’t even go on trial.”

Is there a more unequivocal statement than this? Dayan is declaring that the soldiers were guilty of killing five innocent Palestinians, and he didn’t make any effort to prosecute them.

Today’s Emile Zola feels ideologically justified. “To the question of whether terrorists are meant to die, the answer is yes,” Dayan said. But at Tarqumiya those killed were not attackers and the shooters were let off without prosecution. If so, why doesn’t Dayan just bravely declare that anyone who harms Palestinians is innocent?

Today’s Emile Zola continues by saying, “Azaria’s presumption of innocence was trampled on.” These things were said in open court, with an accused who is allowed home visits, is being defended by a battery of lawyers, with a sympathetic prime minister and an even more sympathetic defense minister.

On second thought, Dayan is right. Seriously, why not just give the soldier a citation of merit?

In theory, Azaria’s trial should be simple. A soldier is photographed shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who did not pose a threat to him or to anyone else. Yet many on the Israeli right (not everyone, of course), has rallied to his defense. There are those who say that maybe there’s something hidden that can’t be seen with the naked eye. That there were other things going on that the camera didn’t catch. (Perhaps the video was faked. It pays to check).

After all this I avoided biting into the lovely apple set before me. Perhaps it wasn’t an apple at all. Perhaps I created it with my subjective self. But at this rate of right-wing acrobatics, the Azaria trial will be studied in philosophy departments to examine whether the shooting even happened, or whether it exists only in the subjective selves of each of us. After all, Immanuel Kant has already established that we cannot separate between our perception of something and the thing itself. I only hope that this welcome philosophy will also serve Palestinian prisoners.

Dayan is now the CEO of the Mifal Hapayis national lottery, the second-largest government agency responsible for culture in Israel after the Culture and Sports Ministry itself. It would behoove us to stop abusing Culture Minister Miri Regev for not being familiar with Chekhov when the ultimate son of Western culture is proud of having prevented the prosecution of soldiers who killed five Arabs.

During the first Dreyfus trial the injustice screamed to the heavens, as a plot was woven against an army officer simply because he was a Jew. The second Dreyfus trial, however, will be the definitive headline for celebrating the 50th anniversary of the occupation.

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