Azaria verdict fractures Israel beyond repair


January 5, 2017
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items:
1) Ma’an: Netanyahu supports pardon for Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter, succinct summary of the right/left positions;
2) Al Jazeera: Azaria exposed the reality of Israel’s colonial project, Neve Gordon provides the best analysis;
3) i24: Timeline of judges’ argumentthis is revealing about the judges’ methodical demolition of Azaria’s defence;
4) JPost: Right wing politicians call for Rivlin, Lieberman to pardon Azaria;


The military court judges: Hon. Judge Sitbon, the Hon. Judge Wahabi and presiding Judge Col. Maya Heller. Photo by Moti Milrod.

Netanyahu supports pardon for Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter

By Ma’an
January 05, 2017

BETHLEHEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came out on Wednesday in support of pardoning Elor Azarya, as right-wing Israeli officials further coalesced in support of the Israeli soldier who was convicted of manslaughter for the point-blank shooting of a Palestinian in Hebron.

The Israeli military court gave a wholesale endorsement of the prosecution’s argument that Azarya was unjustified in killing 21-year-old Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif in March, based in part on the blistering testimonies given by Azarya’s army commanders.

Following the verdict on Wednesday, Netanyahu issued a statement on social media in which he said that the ruling marked “a hard and painful day for all of us, first and foremost for Elor and his family, the soldiers of the (Israeli army), many citizens, and the parents of soldiers, myself included.”

“We have one army, which is the basis of our existence,” Netanyahu added. “The soldiers of the IDF are all of our sons and daughters, and they need to remain above dispute. I support pardoning Elor Azaria.”

Manslaughter charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, and Azarya can appeal both the conviction and the sentence to the Israeli military appeals court.

A court reporter for Israel’s The Jerusalem Post said that the judge’s “one-sided” conviction made the decision more vulnerable to appeal, as judges had not expressed any sympathy to the defence’s argument.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is likely to face a request to pardon Azarya, according to reports, as Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett has already stated that the soldier should be granted an immediate pardon.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has also reportedly not ruled out the possibility of a pardon in private discussion, however on Wednesday he said the verdict had to be respected, despite his displeasure with the conviction.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Lieberman stated that calls for a pardon were “ignorance and slogans” following Netanyahu’s statement.

While Azarya has garnered mass support from Israel’s far-right citizens and government, who have labelled the soldier a national hero, the outcome of the trial has been described by the Palestinian Authority as a “show trial” handing down a lenient sentence on the soldier, while focusing on the case to distract from a wider culture of impunity for Israeli forces.

Israeli human rights group Gush Shalom issued a statement on Wednesday calling the verdict “very far from justice.”

The great miscarriage of justice is in the very fact that a single young soldier was placed alone in the dock, to be condemned for a crime in which very many others share guilt. Missing in the dock at Azarya’s side were government ministers and Knesset Members, government supporters as well as those from the ‘opposition’, who had outspokenly called upon soldiers to do precisely what Azarya did…The soldier Elior Azarya is a minor accomplice, the main culprit is the occupation.

Azarya, now 20, was the only member of Israeli forces to be charged with the death of a Palestinian in 2016 — when at least 111 Palestinians were shot and killed by Israelis — according to Human Rights Watch.

Meanwhile, the al-Sharif family has vowed to take the case to the International Criminal Court to obtain justice for their slain relative, arguing the video-documented case was in fact cold-blooded murder.



The compulsively-fondled baby Azaria, photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90

Azaria exposed the reality of Israel’s colonial project

Elor Azaria is not a rotten apple. His killing of a Palestinian exposes the normalisation of Israel’s colonial project.

By Neve Gordon, Al Jazeera
Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme visiting fellow at SOAS, University of London.

January 05, 2017

It is no coincidence that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who was then followed by a slew of ministers and Knesset members – has called for a presidential pardon for Israeli soldier Elor Azaria.

Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter after he shot and killed Yusri al-Sharif as he lay wounded on the ground. This striking mobilisation to exonerate Azaria, which cuts across party lines and includes MKs from Labour, should actually come as no surprise, since the desired pardon is not really about absolving one lone murderer, but rather an effort to vindicate Israel’s 50-year occupation.

Consciously or unconsciously, each and every government official calling for such absolution understands that Azaria is in no way an aberration of Israel’s colonial project, but rather a clear symptom of its very structure.

The bystanders are living proof

The bystanders are testimony to the structure’s effect. The video released by the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem first depicts al-Sharif lying on the ground, wounded, as scores of soldiers and settlers stand near his body chatting, talking on the phone and taking pictures. Several medics are at the scene, but they, too, are oblivious to the injured Palestinian. Indeed, one of these medics is the killer.

Following the execution, not one of the bystanders appears surprised; no one grabs Azaria and pushes him away from the scene, no one runs to al-Sharif to see if he can be resuscitated; rather, the bystanders simply continue to chat.

The laid-back everydayness of those standing just metres away from an execution can certainly be understood as a manifestation of what Hannah Arendt has called the “banality of evil”. Yet, it also profoundly captures something crucial about the structure of Israel’s colonial project.

Kfir Brigade

Azaria is a soldier in the Kfir Brigade. This brigade, as John Brown recently exposed, has been responsible for killing many Palestinians, among them Mustafa Tamimi who was shot in the head with a long-range tear gas canister during a weekly demonstration in his village, Nabi Saleh. The soldier who killed Tamimi in 2011 was sitting in a military jeep five metres from Tamimi when he aimed and fired his gun.

Two months ago, four other soldiers from the same brigade were indicted for electrocuting a Palestinian; evidence emerged that they had taken pictures of him as he begged for his life. Two other soldiers were charged with beating Palestinian children, sticking an electric heat blower in the face of one of them. John Brown cites yet another confession made by a soldier from the same brigade:

We would go on a patrol, and if we even saw a child looking at us in a not nice way – he would receive a slap on the spot. On one of these patrols, some threw stones at us. We caught one of the children who we knew saw the stone-thrower. We beat him so bad until he was willing to identify the thrower. We then took [the 14-year-old stone thrower] from his bed outside. We pointed to some holes in the ground while we stuck the barrels of our rifles in his mouth and said to him: ‘Do you want to die here? Just choose a place where you want to be buried.’

Not a rotten apple

Azaria, in other words, is not a rotten apple. Rather, his actions must be understood as part and parcel of the larger structure that constitutes and shapes Israel’s colonial project. Azaria was merely unlucky because he was caught executing a Palestinian on video.

Indeed, large parts of the Israeli public realise this and therefore do not perceive Azaria as an outlier, which helps explain the widespread support he has garnered.

Thus, it would be a grave mistake to conclude, as the Israeli press has done, that the politicians are simply pandering to the mob. Netanyahu recognises that Azaria is a peg in the machine, as does Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and it is for this reason that they are calling upon the president to pardon him.

They also know that if Azaria is handed down a 20-year sentence, the structure that produces the likes of Azaria and the everyday taken-for-granted violence needed to sustain Israel’s colonial endeavour could well be challenged from within.

However, it is also crucial not to lose sight of what they are consciously supporting. For Azaria and those who were standing by him on the Hebron streets, as well as for all of his fans – citizens and politicians alike – Palestinians like Yusri al-Sharif are never victims or fully human beings; they are prey.

Thus, they can not only be legitimately hunted, but killing them is never a crime, and more often than not, it is not even considered a misdemeanour.



Image of the three military judges adorned with Hitler moustaches has been circulating on Facebook as have comments such as these: ‘Col. Maya Heller will not finish her year’ (54-year-old man) and ‘Take a grenade and blow up the judge and scatter all of her parts in different places, let the dogs eat her’ (22-year-old woman); many others online have flooded social media with posts inciting against the judges and even calling on soldiers to rebel against the IDF. Image and quotes from Jewish Business News

The judges’ verdict

i24 news
January 4, 2017

Timeline of judges’ argument by i24 [read from bottom]

January 04, 2017

  • 11:36 GMT

    Azaria’s Attorney: “He (Azaria) is strong, He believes the verdict will be cancelled”

  • 11:26 GMT

    Avigdor Lieberman, Minister of Defence: “It is a harsh verdict ..but all who approve or disapprove, like myself, should respect the verdict”

  • 11:19 GMT

    MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid party) “We are one of the most moral armies..When mistakes happen we deal with them..this is what happens in democracies..No one should use this, including politicians, as a platform for themselves”

  • 11:08 GMT

    “This is the time to support the Azaria family,” says MK Oren Hazan (Likud), who was the only politician to show up in court. “The trial was a big show.. we will find a way to free him (Azaria).”

  • 11:07 GMT

    Azaria’s attorney: We will study the verdict but we will definitely appeal.

  • 11:06 GMT

    Shelly Yachimovitch (Zionist Union): A pardon should be considered.

  • 10:39 GMT

    The Jewish Home party: Israeli public expects defence minister Lieberman to stick to his promises and lead to immediate pardon

  • 10:27 GMT

    Azaria found guilty of manslaughter by court

  • 10:24 GMT

    Judges say they adhered to facts and nothing else and that comments of army leadership which were critical of Azaria did not affect their judgement

  • 10:14 GMT

    Yesh Atid party Chair Yair Lapid says “violence will not govern us” in response to protesters’ aggression

  • 10:07 GMT

    Lawmaker Major General (res.) Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) says: “The soldier’s conduct seriously hurts IDF’s values ​​and for that he will be tried and punished.”

  • 10:03 GMT

    Amir Peretz, lawmaker and former defense minister, says ” It is not a day for celebrations. The court’s independence is an inherent part of our army’s moral strength.”

  • 10:01 GMT

    Lawmaker Ahmed Tibi says “Azaria should have been sentenced alongside dozens of other soldiers and commanders who killed Palestinians for no reason.”

  • 09:53 GMT

    The judges say there is no proof that the military advocate general was influenced by the comments of defence minister Ya’alon in deciding on trial

  • 09:49 GMT

    Lawmaker Bar-Lev (Zionist Union) says in response to protesters – “protesters are criminals”

  • 09:40 GMT

    Likud Minister Miri Regev says in response to court statements “this is a miserable message – Elor is indeed everybody’s soldier” she further added that if found guilty by court she will fight for a pardon.

  • 09:39 GMT

    Judges say they believe Azaria shot because he believed ‘the terrorist deserves to die’, and not because he thought he was in danger

  • 09:35 GMT

    Judges say they are unconvinced by testimony of Eliyahu Libman, head of Hebron civilian security, a witness on the scene who testified he supported Azaria’s decision to shoot

  • 09:31 GMT

    Judges criticize retired Maj. Gen Uzi Dayan’s comment during testimony that in principle “terrorists need to be killed”. His words contradict IDF procedures

  • 09:27 GMT

    Two protesters already arrested

  • 09:26 GMT

    Police clashes with protesters shouting “release Elor”

  • 09:21 GMT

    Police reports: Protesters outside court broke out to the road. Kaplan street is blocked. Police are trying to clear the road

  • 09:15 GMT

    Judges say that there was no fear for Azaria’s life

  • 09:14 GMT

    Judges note shouts warning of an explosive came two minutes before the shooting, not immediately before as Azaria claimed.

  • 09:14 GMT

    Judges note Azaria could not explain this discrepancy

  • 09:12 GMT

    Judge says video shows Azaria did not appear to be concerned about immediate danger

  • 09:09 GMT

    Judges say they were not convinced by the defense’s explanations relating to Azaria’s constantly changing version of events

  • 09:09 GMT

    The judges say that the testimony of Azaria’s commanders, who criticized his conduct was trustworthy

  • 09:07 GMT

    Judges add that these same witnesses did not hear azaria mention any fear of an explosive or a knife. That came later on

  • 09:06 GMT

    Instead the judges accepted the conclusions of Dr. Hadas Gipps who performed the autopsy and concluded that the assailant was killed by Azaria’s bullet. Professor Hiss, the defense’s expert witness, was not present at the autopsy

  • 09:05 GMT

    On this point the judges were not convinced by the testimony of professor yehuda hiss, a famous Israeli forensics expert, who testified as an expert witness that his conclusion was that the assailant was already dead at the time of the shooting

  • 09:04 GMT

    Judges rule out the option that the assailant was already dead when shot by Azaria

 




Oren Hazan, Likud MK, is one of the rightwing politicians (who include a large part of the government) calling for an immediate pardon for Azaria.

Right wing politicians call for Rivlin, Lieberman to pardon Azaria

Much of the rest of the Right kept mum after manslaughter conviction, but many of those who responded called for IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria to be pardoned.

By Lahav Harkov, JPost
January 04, 2017

Politicians on Right and Left were divided in their reactions to the guilty verdict in the trial of Hebron shooter Sgt. Elor Azaria, with many on the Right calling for Azaria to be pardoned.

“The court had its say, and now the government and the IDF must take responsibility and pardon the soldier that we sent to the front lines to defend the citizens of Israel from Palestinian terrorist attacks,” said Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz.

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said she will work toward Azaria’s pardon, and that there should not have been criminal proceedings against him in the first place.

“If Azaria broke the rules, he should have been called to a disciplinary hearing with the brigade commander,” said Regev, a former IDF spokeswoman. “Unfortunately, the primary court in this case was a field court, in which commentators and politicians judged Azaria before the military investigation of the event.”

She said the verdict sent a message to soldiers: “You are alone in the field. Soldiers have operational challenges that are not simple, and a soldier has been abandoned.”

Some on the Right questioned the legitimacy of the trial.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett called the proceedings “polluted from the beginning.”

“Severe statements by politicians before the investigation began, the absence of the soldier himself from the operational investigation, the negative media coverage, including from Army Radio, caused Elor irreparable damage. I called for a pardon before the verdict, like in the Bus 300 incident [in 1984, when two Shin Bet agents shot dead Palestinian hijackers after the hostage crisis ended], but unfortunately, that did not happen,” Bennett wrote on Facebook, adding that he expects Defence Minister Liberman to pardon Azaria.

Bennett also called on IDF soldiers to continue defending Israel without fear and doubts, and that Israelis will remain united.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely declared the proceedings a “show trial,” that the verdict was known before it even started, and called for Rivlin to pardon Azaria.

Likud MK Oren Hazan, who sat in on part of the reading of Azaria’s verdict and was in touch with him and his family throughout the year, said the soldier should not sit in prison for even one day.

According to Hazan, the proceedings were rigged and the trial was not a fair one, with too much outside intervention.

Azaria is “our boy, our man, who did what was expected of him beyond any doubt,” he argued. “We must remember that Elor killed a vile terrorist, not a hero… and he was there because the country sent him, so the country should back him fully.”

In an unusual move, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit – responding to claims that the trial was unfair – threw his support behind the military courts system, which he said “fulfils its job independently, without fear or bias, and through professional legal considerations alone. Respect for the rule of law and judicial decisions is a cornerstone of Israeli democracy. Claims that law enforcement are acting on foreign interests are baseless, irresponsible and should be rejected.”

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi) circulated a petition among MKs calling for Liberman to pardon Azaria.

The petition reads:

The shooting took place in an operational event and must be properly investigated within the army. In similar cases in the past the army backed the fighters, even if there were mistakes…

Unfortunately, the judicial process was sullied by intervention of outside factors.

Shas faction chairman Yoav Ben-Tzur called the verdict a sad event for Israeli society, and said Azaria was everyone’s son.

“Just as we expect IDF soldiers to be committed to defending Israel, we must defend them,” Ben-Tzur said. “Let us strengthen Elor, his father, mother and family, and pray that with God’s help he will be pardoned.”

Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) did not call for a pardon, but said the fact that Azaria was acting while in mandatory service and shot “a terrorist… a moment after he attacked, and not an innocent man,” should be taken into consideration when he is sentenced.

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) called to carefully consider the possibility of a pardon.

According to Yacimovich, the court behaved professionally and courageously, and that it is important that it made the moral standards of the IDF clearer.

However, she said: “The court is a sterile territory in which the evidence talks, but Israeli society is an explosive arena and Azaria’s shoulders are too narrow to carry the weight of the divide.”

Others in the opposition praised the courts and criticized the Right’s calls for a pardon.

Former defence minister MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Union) said this was not a joyous occasion, but called for everyone to respect the court, its independence and its authority. He stated:

The IDF has always been and will continue to be a moral army due to, among other things, the complete separation of politics, public opinion and its professional considerations. Heading the army is a brave chief of staff who understands his overall responsibility, an outstanding combatant and a moral and dignified man. We must honour the chain of command, starting with him, down to the last and most recent recruit. Every soldier must know that the chain of command and rules of ethics apply also in the intricate reality of the West Bank, and ignore reckless politicians who scatter statements and call for opening fire and shooting to kill without any actual authority.

MK Erel Margalit (Zionist Union) accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of using “dog whistles” against the IDF and its chief of staff, and said the Right’s “attacks” on them are endangering democracy:

Netanyahu wants Israeli society to fall apart and sent his party’s members to harm the IDF and the members of [Beitar Jerusalem fan gang] La Familia to beat up journalists and Arabs. I call on responsible ministers to stop this. We cannot let them dismantle the IDF and Israeli society.

MK Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, urged the Israeli public to accept the court’s decision and “prevent a rift in our society, and to ensure no harm comes to the people’s army. I call on everyone to end the violence and stop the irresponsible statements coming from within the political system. It’s not the way of the Jewish people, of the State of Israel or of the IDF,” he said, after violent clashes erupted over the case earlier in day.

Lapid asserted that Israel’s power comes from “our wonderful military, our officers and our soldiers, and because we are a country of law and order.”

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg said the Azaria case “put an unpleasant mirror in front of a reality many want to deny, the military rule over the territories, and specifically in Hebron, and the settlers’ dominance over the army.”

The verdict, she said, shows that no one is exempt from the rule of law.

There are thousands of Azarias that have not been put on trial.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said:

The difference between this case and hundreds of others is the presence of B’Tselem’s camera, which documented the cruel reality of the occupation and revealed the inflammatory pus that the occupation creates at the heart of Israeli society. It’s clear that the soldier himself is directly responsible for his actions, but the real responsibility is on Israeli governments that have chosen for 50 years to turn young people into soldiers, maintaining military rule over a civilian population without rights.

Said MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List): “There are thousands of Azarias that have not been put on trial.”

He added that individual soldiers were not the root of the problem, but rather a leadership that “continues in acts of killing and occupation and tramples on the human rights of Palestinians.”

The Israeli leadership should be put on trial at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Zahalka said. “If this doesn’t happen, the officially sanctioned killing will go on.”

JPost.com desk contributed to this report

LINKS
Wrong people put on trial for killing Palestinians, Sep. 23, 2016

The outsider in charge of defence,Sep. 23, 2016

Far-right turns against military, Jan 2017

Israeli patriotism put on trial with Azaria

Azaria verdict fractures Israel beyond repair

Sergeant Elor Azaria, Uri Avnery on the rift

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