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Elor Azaria and Me

Anat Kamm
Anat Kamm
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Elor Azaria in an interview on Channel 14, Tuesday.
Elor Azaria in an interview on Channel 14, Tuesday.Credit: Screenshot from Channel 14
Anat Kamm
Anat Kamm

Elor Azaria was a guest on Channel 14 on Monday as part of the station’s promotional campaign around its new place on the Israeli remote, after it migrated from Channel 20. The interview with the former IDF soldier, who was convicted of manslaughter in the killing of a Palestinian assailant in Hebron, was based on questions submitted by viewers.

The interviewer, Boaz Golan, who knows Azaria and his family and has interviewed him in the past, didn’t let Channel 14’s pretensions as a news station stand in his way for what was not as much a softball interview as a conversation between a rockstar and a groupie. Azaria isn’t the ideal person to interview, but he’s someone who can and should be asked more probing questions – although not necessarily tougher ones – because even though it’s been six years since those 11 minutes in Hebron, his act and its consequences remain relevant to this day.

Despite the personal and demographic differences between us, I have long felt I had something deeply in common with Elor. We were both sent on behalf of the State of Israel to places that we would never have gone to by choice. We both tried to make the most of the situation. Elor took a medics’ course and excelled in it. I completed officers’ training and worked in the office of a major general and commander. Each of us committed a serious offense in the course of our army service.

But more than that, both of us were thrown into situations that afterwards were used by people around us and from across the political spectrum at our expense. Their arguments weren’t necessarily connected to us or the acts that we committed. Both of us let the echo chamber of the political camp to which we belong confuse us.

There’s something very misleading in the disparity between the military and the judicial system and the half of the country that’s telling you that you committed a serious and shocking crime and another half of the country that’s telling you that you’re a hero. It's a difficult dissonance to process at the age of 20.

It’s easy and necessary both emotionally and cognitively to adopt the arguments of the side that views you as a hero, even if they attribute motives to you that didn’t necessarily exist when you did what you did. And, in fact, Azaria still doesn’t express any remorse. “To this day, if you would take me back to those same seconds, I would act the same,” he told Golan in the television interview. Why would he say otherwise? After all, as his interviewer repeated during the broadcast, Azaria continues to enjoy the love of the people of Israel.

Azaria doesn’t need to remain “the Hebron shooter” for the rest of his life, and like anyone convicted of a crime, certainly at a young age, he deserves another chance. I really hope that the bakery he has opened is successful and that he earns a respectable living from it.

But he has to free himself from “Elor Azaria” and resume being just Elor. That can be achieved by leveraging his experience for social change on an issue close to his heart and about which only he can speak from experience.

For example, he could encourage a frank and open discussion by combat soldiers about Hebron that is not conducted through terminology used by Breaking the Silence, the veterans’ group that exposes abuses of Palestinians by the army. Or a discussion about the conditions in army prisons, particularly after the case of Captain T., a soldier who died in military custody. Or leading a campaign on behalf of combat soldiers that offers them backing for their actions in operational situations. Or how politicians take advantage of young people who make mistakes to advance their own interests – as if the young people involved aren’t human beings who are paying a real price for their actions.

That approach will require Azaria to step outside the comfort zone offered by the likes of his No. 1 fan, Boaz Golan. If he can, we will need to assist him along the way. Because as long as Israel’s security situation remains unchanged, other Elor Azarias will come along. Disassociating ourselves from them will push them into the waiting arms of the racist right wing. And, although it’s not comfortable for us to view them as “the children of us all,” as Azaria himself was regarded by his supporters, that’s exactly what these future Elor Azarias are.

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