Opinion |

Hebron Shooter Elor Azaria's Trial: The Death Throes of a Healthy Society

There will be no more Azaria trials. The politicians and the masses won’t let it happen

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Israelis protest in support of Elor Azaria outside his trial in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2017.
Israelis protest in support of Elor Azaria outside his trial in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2017.Credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Take a good look at the trial of soldier Elor Azaria: That’s what death throes look like. That’s what the death throes of good government and the last spasms of a healthy society look like. That’s what the façade of equality before the law —(what would have happened had Azaria been Palestinian?) — looks like when most of the masks have already been torn off, including the cloak of shame. That’s what a democracy looks like when it thought it could continue to exist undisturbed even as a brutal military tyranny existed in its backyard. That’s what an occupation army looks like when it still insists on a few religious rituals of law and values.

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It’s all racing in the same direction, and the runaway gallop has spurred a last-ditch effort to wrap it in a guise of fairness, in the form of the Azaria trial or the evacuation of the Amona outpost, for instance. When Moshe Ya’alon and Gadi Eisenkot, two military commanders responsible for war crimes and occupation, have become the guardians of law and morality in Israel, the situation is beyond despair.

It’s worth taking a good look at them: Soon they, too, will no longer be here. Their places will be taken by people who are even worse. Yesterday, the masses threatened: "Gadi, Gadi, beware, Rabin is looking for a companion."

Perhaps we’ll yet miss Eisenkot. It’s hard to believe, but he too, is already an endangered species. Even television anchor Dany Cushmaro was a target for the rabble yesterday. How ridiculous.

Credit: Haaretz

In court, a military judge read out a detailed, reasoned verdict, self-evident and unavoidable, and it was completely disconnected from what was happening outside. Inside the courthouse, the defendant was greeted with applause, while the broadcasters vied with each other over who could show more compassion and empathy for him (for what, exactly?). And outside, hundreds of demonstrators were threatening to storm the court, the army and the media, as the politicians’ chorus of incitement egged them on.

Read more on Azaria verdict: How the judges unraveled Elor Azaria's defense | Why the Hebron shooter trial is dividing Israel | Netanyahu threw army under the bus / Analysis | Enemies of Israeli republic suffer setback / Analysis | Hebron soldier Elor Azaria is no hero / Analysis | Israel's ruling party more dangerous than pro-Azaria mob / Analysis | Hebron shooter convicted, but those responsible will never be put to trial / Analysis | Elor Azaria's supporters also seek justice / Analysis | The death throes of a healthy society / Opinion

The ministers of culture, education and the interior are already pardoning Azaria. Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich (!) has already joined them. Norms are being inverted one after the other: A person convicted of manslaughter is a hero; the chief of staff of the occupation army is a teacher of morality; cabinet ministers are subverting the justice system and the military. And the opposition is nonexistent.

What a long road Israel has traveled since the pardon granted to Azaria’s predecessors, the perpetrators of the Bus 300 attack, back in 1984 when two Palestinians who had hijacked a bus, were captured alive by the Shin Bet security service, and later put to death. At least they didn’t become heroes. Perhaps they even felt a moment of shame over their actions.

It’s been 13 years since the last time an Israel Defense Forces soldier was convicted of committing manslaughter during operational activity, and that time, it was a Bedouin soldier, who spent six years in prison solely due to international pressure (he killed a British photographer). Operations Cast Lead and Protective Edge in Gaza, with their hundreds of unnecessary dead, ended without any convictions. Executions of girls with scissors and boys with knives also went by without anyone being put on trial, on Eisenkot’s watch.

“Are there judges in IDF headquarters?” Virtually none. Azaria wasn’t the first executioner, and he also won’t be the last.

It’s good that he was convicted. If he is given a fitting sentence, perhaps this will prevent a few other criminal killings. But there’s nothing to get excited about. The cameras of B’Tselem — that organization of traitors and liars — forced the IDF to put him on trial. The evidence compelled the court to convict him.

And this was the swan song. There will be no more Azaria trials. The politicians and the masses won’t let it happen.

The root of it all is hatred of Arabs. Azaria is virtually a national hero for one reason only: He killed an Arab (the lines between Arabs and terrorists are blurred in Israel). He did what many people would have wanted to do themselves and what many more think he should have done.

This was a murder born of pity: the self-pity of the occupier over the bitterness of his fate. How wretched is the soldier Azaria, who was forced to stand at a checkpoint in Hebron. How wretched are his commanders, who sent him there. How wretched is Israel, which is forced to erect checkpoints in the very heart of a Palestinian city and strangle its residents. But for this, nobody has been put on trial.

Azaria is neither a hero nor a victim. He’s a criminal. But above him are even bigger criminals.

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