By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
A few days ago a human rights organization made public a video after a terrorist attack on soldiers in Hebron that shows one of the soldiers shooting to kill a terrorist who had already been injured and “neutralized” (as the official term has it). The prime minister and the minister of defense reacted quickly telling the world that if this has indeed happened, it’s contrary to the standards and practices of the Israel Defense Forces. The solider was arrested and will no doubt be court marshalled.
That his family has reacted vehemently against the arrest is understandable. It’s their son, grandson and sibling. They may claim his innocence not on the basis of facts but on laudable sentiment that “our boy couldn’t have done something like that.” But that a lot of politicians on the right, including the leader of the pro-settler party and minister of education, should have reacted along similar lines is shocking. It invites all kinds of speculations about his motives and the stance of his party.
No less shocking is the corresponding reaction on the left, reflected in a column in Ha’aretz by the vociferous government critic Gideon Levy, that sort-of proclaims the boy guilty before he has been tried. If the prejudice on the right is something to the effect that the victim must have deserved it, the prejudice on the left is that the accused must have done it.
Like virtually all Israelis I don’t know the facts. But if the soldier is proven to be innocent, no doubt he’ll be let free. The army, including its legal arm, is not anxious to find any of its personnel guilty of murdering Palestinians. But even if the young man did do what the video purports to indicate, a number of circumstances have to be taken into account.
He himself is reported to have said that he thought the injured terrorist had a bomb which he intended to detonate. Again, we don’t know the evidence, but such things are said to have happened, Killing of the terrorist would then suggest saving lives instead of murder.
And then there’s the psychological factor. A young man between 18 and 21 is facing an attacker. He has in his hand a gun. Is it unreasonable to assume that he panicked and fired without thinking? Yes, he has been trained but all of us have occasionally forgotten what we’ve learnt if the pressure has been too much.
Even if this speculation is correct, it doesn’t mean that the soldier shouldn’t be punished if he did what he’s accused of having done, because murder is murder and not to punish him accordingly would send the wrong message not only to the world but to all soldiers facing assailants.
The situation also prompts the reflection that this is another hefty price that Israelis are paying for the occupation. It exposes their sons and daughters to very difficult situations and expects them to act with maturity and skill. Remarkably, the overwhelming majority seem to be doing precisely that. But we shouldn’t be surprised that there may be exceptions.
In view of the political climate in the country and the seeming intransigence on the part of the Palestinian Authority it’s unreasonable to assume that the incident will lead to massive changes of policy or practice. But it does make us think and worry. Yes, worry.