By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Whatever the verdict on Sgt. Elor Azaria was going to be, it would be a tragedy for many and bad for us all. Had he been found not guilty by the military court that tried him, it would have been scandalous because there’s evidence on film that shows that last March Azaria shot dead a terrorist eleven minutes after the latter was “neutralized” and lying on the ground.
But last Wednesday he was found guilty. Already before the verdict was announced, some of his right-wing supporters demonstrated outside the court building. They’ll now be joined by many others to raise hell and proclaim his innocence. Even though the former chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, who was defense minister at the time, said that Azaria’s action was a very serious breach of the army’s code of conduct, anti-Palestinian hotheads will argue, as did his defense lawyers, that the terrorist still constituted a danger and that Azaria felt threatened by him. Many cabinet ministers will concur, not because of the evidence but because of their ideology.
And much of the Israeli public may side with them. Many Israelis have children in the army, some of them in combat units. They know that understandable fear of being attacked and/or perhaps equally understandable hatred of those who attack may lead to spontaneous actions that in retrospect may seem unwarranted, yet shouldn’t be considered to be criminal.
In this sense, Elor Azaria wasn’t only the son of parents who did their utmost to stir up the media against the court, but the son of many others who until now had never heard of him yet identify with his plight. That’s why Israel’s current chief of staff told the media a day or so before the verdict that Azaria wasn’t only a son but, in this instance, a soldier who had to obey orders and follow the rules of ethical conduct as laid down by Israel’s armed forces.
As much as we may understand Azaria’s defenders and as sorry we may feel for him and his family, if we care about the integrity of the State of Israel and its military, we must welcome the verdict and react against those who, for whatever reason, would like to circumvent it.
We’re called upon to acknowledge that much more than the fate of one individual is at stake here. That’s why I’ve heard it said – in fact, by a media person I greatly respect – that the situation would have been much more wholesome had there been a gag order on all concerned before the verdict was announced. But that wasn’t the case. There’s, therefore, little doubt that the media, fed by members of the Azaria family and fan club, helped to stir things up.
Of course, this conclusion is also problematic. To keep things under wraps doesn’t make for freedom and democracy. But in this instance freedom and democracy might have been less damaged without the media hype.
Terrorism not only takes innocent lives and maims innocent people but it also poisons minds of others be it out of fear or out of hatred. The Azaria situation is one of many manifestations of it. It’s, of course, tempting to blame one side and defend the other. The sad truth, however, appears to be that only victims are innocent. Everybody else may be guilty in one form or another.
Which turns the Azaria trial into something of a tragedy with ramifications far beyond the court room and another reason why peace may be worth a lot of sacrifice.