The Frightening Truth About Israeli Society

T. Belman. The author is wrong when he describes the issue thusly,

” It’s a belief that a distinction can and should be made between the lives of Arabs and of Jews; that a Jewish soldier or citizen can take the law into his own hands and decide that any terrorist, even if he is disabled and a prisoner, must die at his hands, those of a self-declared executioner; the belief that even if an Israeli soldier has killed a wounded Palestinian terrorist, simply for the sake of killing him, he should not be prosecuted. This frightening truth is a defiant challenge to the rule of law, to equality before the law, and is tainted by racism of the worst kind.”

This is not racism. The Israel public wants zero tolerance for terrorism. It believes that if an Arab attempts to kill an innocent Israeli, it should be lawful to kill the terrorist on the spot. If a law was passed to exonerate such actions, then we would still be governed by the rule of law.  In war, when you kill your enemy, its not racism, murder of manslaughter. It is war.

By Ronen Bergman, NYT

TEL AVIV — On March 24, Sgt. Elor Azaria arrived at an Israeli military post in the heart of the West Bank city of Hebron shortly after two Palestinians had stabbed a soldier in the arm and shoulder. The two assailants were shot during the attack; one was killed and the other, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, was wounded and lying helpless on the ground. Sergeant Azaria cocked his rifle and fired a bullet into Mr. Sharif’s head, killing him. He had just told a fellow soldier, “He stabbed my friend and he deserves to die.”

On trial for manslaughter in military court and represented by a battery of top-flight lawyers paid for by donations to a crowdfunding website, Sergeant Azaria gave a different motive for his action. He now claimed that he feared that Mr. Sharif was armed with a bomb and he shot him to protect himself and his comrades. This defense, as well as the others that were put forward (including the claim that Mr. Sharif was already dead when Sergeant Azaria shot him, although he was clearly seen moving in video images of the incident), were all rejected on Wednesday by a panel of three military judges, who called Sergeant Azaria’s defense “evasive” and “evolving and tortuous,” and convicted him.

The judgment, on the face of it, was a victory for Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the army’s chief of staff, and for Moshe Yaalon, who was defense minister at the time of the shooting. Both had condemned Sergeant Azaria’s action as soon as images of it were made public by a human rights organization. They declared the killing a violation of the army’s code of ethics and backed the army prosecution. The sharply worded judgment should have put an end to the controversy that has transfixed Israel for almost a year, with right-wing politicians criticizing the army and bolstering Sergeant Azaria’s public support.

The reality is different. Violent demonstrations erupted Wednesday outside the court, and Sergeant Azaria’s supporters declared that they would “turn the country upside down.” The judges and prosecutor now have bodyguards because of death threats.

The Azaria case has exposed a frightening truth about Israeli society. After the soldier’s defense was changed, the court focused its attention on the question of whether he had known that the Palestinian on the ground was powerless to act, or if it was possible to think otherwise. But this was not the issue that interested the public.

In recent months, in delivering lectures on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and holding audience discussions, I have asked hundreds of people across Israel a hypothetical question: Assuming that Sergeant Azaria had stuck to his original story and admitted that he knew that the man lying on the ground presented no danger to anyone, but he had nevertheless decided to put a bullet in his head, should he be acquitted or convicted?

The absolute majority of the people I met believed that he should be allowed to go free immediately. Many even believe that Sergeant Azaria is a hero. Most people in Israel believe that any terrorist, even if he is totally disabled, must not escape alive. The same view is prevalent in almost every discussion of the subject in the social media, from petitions on Sergeant Azaria’s behalf, and from the thousands of vituperative attacks against anyone daring to express a different opinion.

This is an expression of a phenomenon that endangers the future of Israeli democracy: a widespread belief that there are situations in which, as one woman I talked to put it, the “wisdom of the street is preferable to the judgment of a court.” It’s a belief that a distinction can and should be made between the lives of Arabs and of Jews; that a Jewish soldier or citizen can take the law into his own hands and decide that any terrorist, even if he is disabled and a prisoner, must die at his hands, those of a self-declared executioner; the belief that even if an Israeli soldier has killed a wounded Palestinian terrorist, simply for the sake of killing him, he should not be prosecuted. This frightening truth is a defiant challenge to the rule of law, to equality before the law, and is tainted by racism of the worst kind.

Sergeant Azaria did not create this frightening truth. His bullet in Mr. Sharif’s head only exposed it.

Politicians were the first to detect this sentiment pulsing through Israeli society. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who initially condemned the killing, quickly changed his tune after he saw that his greatest rival for right-wing votes, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, backed the soldier. Mr. Netanyahu even called Sergeant Azaria’s father to express his sympathy.

On Wednesday, after Mr. Bennett called for Sergeant Azaria to be pardoned, Mr. Netanyahu echoed the call. In a survey carried out that evening, 67 percent of those polled agreed that Sergeant Azaria should be pardoned. Another right-winger, Avigdor Lieberman — an opposition member of Parliament when the trial opened — showed up at court to express his support for the soldier. Mr. Netanyahu fired Mr. Yaalon as defense minister and replaced him with Mr. Lieberman, at least in part because of his stance on Sergeant Azaria’s case.

The Israeli army is now caught between the hammer of the politicians and the anvil of the public. At first, Sergeant Azaria was questioned by the military police on suspicion of murder; indeed, the wording of Wednesday’s judgment makes it seem as though murder would have been an appropriate charge. Sources in the military prosecution told me that “because of the intolerable public pressure, we thought that” charging him with murder “would lead to an earthquake,” so the charge was reduced to manslaughter.

The Azaria case has demonstrated that the armed forces, which once enjoyed the total backing of the citizenry and few dared to criticize, can now be sacrificed on the altar of ultranationalist ideology. The top brass has found itself confronted by the social media, with the citizens waging war against “the citizens’ army,” as the Israeli military likes to call itself.

Commanders of all ranks, who have since the Hebron shooting been ordered to clarify the rules of engagement for their troops are finding that there is competition to their authority over their subordinates: the stream of pro-Azaria incitement on blogs and social media. In the demonstration outside the court on Wednesday, there were some who chanted that General Eisenkot, the military chief, should beware because “Rabin is looking for a friend,” referring to Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister assassinated by a right-wing extremist.

General Eisenkot has remained firm, declaring before the judgment that Sergeant Azaria wasn’t “the son of all of us,” as his supporters like to call him. It remains to be seen if the chief of staff, or anyone else, will be able to continue to ensure that justice is done in the Israeli military and that its code of ethics, which Israelis have long prided themselves on, will be maintained. Even if the military succeeds, the trends are worrying: A country, people and society are in a sorry state when the guardians of its democratic values and the rule of law are the officers of the armed forces who are forced to stand up to the mob and the politicians who incite it and kowtow to it.

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20 Comments / 20 Comments

  1. Sebastien Zorn

    Perfect example of liberal myopia. Leftists are attached to their formulas to the point of insanity. They start with stereotypes like “racist” and ignore reality. They’ve redefined “racist” out of existence. A racist is someone who hates you no matter what you do or believe. These Arab/Muslim terrorists are the racists. Why does the government in Israel have no death penalty for terrorists? Why does the government periodically release them to kill again? Why does it let them incite from behind bars? Why does it allow their families to incite? Why should the public have faith in the government’s will to protect them? Why shouldn’t they take the law into their own hands if the law will not protect them? In a civilized society, you give up your right to act for yourself to the government because you trust it to act fairly on behalf of the entire public of which you are an equal member. If they are so worried about Jordan and Egypt breaking the treaty, why on earth should they want to give up even more territory over some verbal threats? That’ s all the more reason to tell them go to hell. The only reason there has been “peace” is that our enemies lost their confidence on the battlefield. So they want to give them advantages (handicaps)? Is this a tennis match? Do they want to give them the courage to attack again? Are they nuts? The top needs to be replaced. Like here. We have Trump. I have high hopes for Shaked.

  2. xxx
    This writer is lower than a dog’s dinner. He is inaccurate in a couple of important details, according to the news we read on Arutz 7 and other venues. It’s well publicized that Ya’alon and Eizenkot both condemned (and Netanyahu followed shortly after), as soon as they heard about the stabbing and Azaria’s action. It was BEFORE the “human Rights” group (a euphemism for traitors) revealed the video and certainly well before it was examined carefully for verification that it was genuine and not selective. We still don’t know that, although the lawyers might.

    And, under the circumstances which have prevailed for more than a Century there’s no reason to think that the life of an Arab, out of hundreds of millions of Arabs, is as valuable to us as the life of one Jew, out of 6.5 million, a brother……

    Such nonsense seen in print show starkly just how crazy these Liberal Lefties really are.

    This New York Times writer is astonished that the Israeli public, most of whom have lost friends and/or relatives to these terrorists amongst us, want no terrorists allowed to live. Quite natural, I say.

    According to this writer, it’s “frightening” that the Israeli Public thinks like this.

    I say that it’s a wonder that masses of the public have not bodily torn down the jails and hanged these monsters publicly. Why should the local Arabs be the only ones in Israel to have the privilege of slaughtering others, and expect immunity from death. (the two soldiers who took the wrong turn into the Arab city some years ago. I still see the picture at the window of the maniacs waving their hands about, all dappled with the blood of these poor boys that THEY’D torn to pieces.

    I for one, would have every Arab in the universe hanged drawn and quartered rather than see young Jewish boys assassinated because of the nonsensical “purity of arms” mishugas. One would think that we were fighting gentlemanly 17th-18th century duels over a fancied insult………

  3. yamit82

    Overlooked is that the first autopsy was performed over 10 days after the incident. Govt pathologists findings conflicted with defense pathologist Prof Hiss who was the previous govt pathologist and results are disputed. Hiss claims it was likely the terrorist was already dead or near death. If correct can one murder a victim already dead? The case should have ended here but the court rejected defense pathologist even though they accepted blindly his work for 40 years up till a few years ago when he was fired for some nasty stuff he was doing or accused of doing but never the less he is respected as a pathologist. IMO where you have one professional opinion against a second you should order a third opinion and go where majority opinion concludes.

  4. yamit82

    I know RONEN BERGMAN, a very smart guy and a good investigative journalist. Started as a journalist then go a law degree…..He writes books usually critical of military and security establishments… He is not your everyday ideological lefty but his World view is not on the right that’s for sure. In Israel there is still a general view of the intellectual elites that it’s them against the mob. The mob being the majority of Israelis in this context called ‘amcha and saph-sooph’ (mob). They view their laws, and norms as their protection against the mob and as a means of control. This allows the Supreme court to rule with little or at best muted criticism and the IDF is still the most respected national institution.

  5. Jerry

    over looked in that the film came from the enemy. Betzelem. That video was certainly edited.

  6. Lev Azkhar

    All this dividing opinions could be saved if Israel obeyed The Creator Commandments as given by Moses Himself.

    Deu 7:2 And when the Lord has given them up into your hands and you have overcome them, give them up to complete destruction: make no agreement with them, and have no mercy on them:

    Turn your obedience to The Torah Israel, not to the UN.

  7. bernard ross

    In my opinion Azariyas guilt or innocence is irrelevant to the real crimes commited here by Yaalon, Eisenkot and their military subordinates of military investigators, military prosecutors and military judges.
    The fact is that Yaalon and Eisenkot abused the authority of their office, the authority of their chain of command, the moral authority of the Justice system when they sought to guarantee that those under their chain of command could do no other than follow their publicly shouted orders given in the form of declaring that the soldier is guilty.
    There is no doubt that they declared his guilt
    there is no doubt that they repeatedly declared his guilt REPEATEDLY right up until a week before the verdict
    There is no doubt that at minimum their decalarations of his guilt was an irresponsible act of a public servant as the ethical and legal standard of public leaders is to declare that the public should have patience and wait for due process of law.
    There is no doubt that their declarations violated accepted legal and moral standards of public servants in advising adherence to due process of law there is only a question as to whether those violations were intentional as opposed to being reckless and irresponsible. The public declarations of a military commander and minister cannot be allowed to interfere with the course of due process of law… nor to attempt to sway the outcome with loud public declarations.
    IMO it is obvious that their actions were intentional as they kept repeating their actions and Yaalon had already done the same at Duma making him a serial violator
    but how can we be sure that they both intentionally sought to influence their military subordinates to find the soldier guilty… perhaps they were just reckless and irresponsible?
    Here is the evidence, the proof…. in their own words they tell us why, why why…. they felt it necessary to repeatedly declare the guilt of the soldier in public:

    It was clear to us that in order to prevent a conflagration on the ground (following broadcast of a video of the killing), we had to make a statement,” he explained.
    http://www.timesofisrael.com/yaalon-time-for-israel-to-have-a-premier-who-doesnt-need-investigating/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=6440c14cec-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_01_08&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-6440c14cec-54816837

    So, first he explains that they were clear in their thoughts and that they made their declarations intentionally.
    But what was this “clear” choice that they made, what was the purpose that they sought to achieve?
    their purpose was NOT ethics or principles as the liar always states but their purpose was to “prevent a conflagration” from the arabs and outrage from the foreigners. In other words the purpose of their declarations is admittedly unrelated to the guilt or innocence of the soldier NOR was it related to the responsibility to advise the public to have patience and wait for due process of law to establish guilt.
    What they have admitted here is that they planned a declaration of guilt to avoid riots and outrage. They used their office and authority NOT to call for due process but to do the opposite…. they called for the public AND their military subordinates to find the soldier guilty to avoid riots.
    So they intentionally used their office to further their personal agenda at the expense of all moral and legal norms.
    In my view their serial intentional behavior is criminal and if investigations are not demanded to be instituted by Mandebilt then Israel will end up with the criminal as a PM.

  8. bernard ross

    it is unbelievable that these clear violators of all accepted legal standards for public officials wants to be PM. I find it unbelievable that Israelis dont demand an investigation of their behavior by Mandebilt.
    One reason for them investing so much in the soldiers guilt was their realization that if he is NOT found guilty then the public will look at them… now that their military subordinates found the soldier guilty they arrogantly pretend that they were right to interfere with justice and criminally abuse their authority.
    Mandebilt is another question… how is it that this guy who daily opens investigations for the most miniscule of reasons does not see these repeated violations of public office… is it that he is incompetent as a lawyer that he does not recognize these blatant violations or is he corrupted and covering up his ignoring and avoidance by opening new investigations daily into things that go nowhere like a cloud of confusion and distraction?

  9. Frank Adam

    Azaria did not only break the law as we can all see on the film clip BUT he also broke good practice given the wounded if not dying twit on the ground was incapable. POW’s when intelligently questioned by those who know the necessary skills are a standard source of information and intelligence is a major key to any form of war especially guerrilla war in civvies among the hostile notionally civil population.

  10. stevenl

    The top brass of the IDF are positioning themselves for the next elections.
    However the history of accomplishments of the IL general when at the helm (or high influence) is very disappointing and even catastrophic. Dayan gave up the Temple Mount to the barbarians, Barak gave S Lebanon to the worst enemy of the N for NOTHING. Sharon gave up Gaza in exchange for hell & several thousands of missiles and Rabin gave us the catastrophic Oslo. Ay ‘alon failed to eliminate the Hamas and the tunnels! What is next?

  11. stevenl

    @ Frank Adam:
    The real problem is that the terrorist was not killed right the way!
    Who comes to kill must be killed first!
    It is always easy to give lecture on Ethics from 4500 miles away!
    When facing evilness it is NOT possible to ALWAYS be ethical!
    350 Millions surround 6.5 Millions!
    15 – 0 at the UN SC against Israel. Where are Bergman comments?

  12. dreuveni

    Eisenkot and Yaalon leaned very far out of the window when they declared that Azaria was guilty before due process. The stupid part of their deeds was that they did so so publicly.
    On the other hand, they could have made the same statements behind the scenes to influence the outcome of the trial and maybe they did.
    Whatever the case, they were and are far out of line and since they leaned so far out of the window, they should be allowed to fall. We need better leadership ASAP.

  13. This trial of Azaria is a disgrace to Israel and the IDF. There is no question the soldier was performing his duty. If he suspected that the terrorist might have an explosive belt under his clothes, it is his judgment call. Had the terrorist posses an explosive belt and detonated it, the result would of been many more dead people and wounded, and the soldier would be charged with dereliction of duty. It seems he can not win no matter what action he take or does not take.
    It must be understood that any terrorist must die; there is no mercy or second chance. In Judaism, if someone comes to kill you, you should beat him to it and kill him first. This will cause a lethal hesitation by a soldier on any future action to utilize deadly force in preventing terror and death, which is not the way to protect our people.
    It is time to put this divisive incident behind us. Pardon Azaria and proceed with a united front to quash terror at all cost, and bring about safety and security to all the people in Israel.
    “A United Israel is a Strong Israel”
    YJ Draiman

  14. David Shafir

    Totally agree with Ted’s comment.

  15. mrg3105

    Its seems in all this everyone forgot the terrorist. From his perspective Arabs are at war with Israel. There is no imperative to take prisoners where the comabtants are not mutually obligated to do so by the Geneva Convention, which the PLO/PA are not signitories to as far as I know (correct?)
    Therefore IDF troops have every right to kill any enemy combatant, even those wishing to surrender after the fact.

  16. Elizabeth Stewart

    I was very disappointed by the court’s verdict. The video was not properly investigated and verified; the guilty verdict was apparently decided well before the official court judgement; and the mental state of the defendant was not thoroughly taken into account. Israel is permanently at war, a war not of its own making but one forced upon it by terrorists. What could a soldier’s state of mind be when he and his colleagues are attacked by a terrorist whose aim is to kill – and this is taking place constantly, day after day, all over the Land? The court was not competent to pronounce on Azaria’s mental state. It’s not a normal situation for anyone involved. The IDF is the most moral army in the world, and its morality must include compassion and understanding for its own personnel who are under such constant, unremitting stress and threat all the time. We are not talking about a deliberate, cold-blooded murder, or even manslaughter in the normal course of events. The procedings should be declared a mistrial, and the verdict dismissed.

  17. Sebastien Zorn

    @ Jerry:
    I agree. Go to CAMERA http://www.camera.org/ and enter b’tselem in the search field. They have a history of staging fake film clips and presenting false facts and statistics. They should have and should have had no credibility whatsoever from the outset.

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