Last Wednesday, when a manslaughter conviction was handed down against IDF soldier Elor Azaria, was a complex, difficult and sad day for Israel. Some in Israel called it a black day; others touted it as a Victory Day.
While I stand by the legal verdict, I fall somewhere in the middle.
I don’t believe in extra-judicial killings, and if a court of law proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Azaria’s act of killing was not one of self-defense, but one of revenge, then justice was served. No one ought to be above the law.
But the essence of this story is that the conviction appears to establish that killing a terrorist is a crime. A terrorist who only minutes before attempted to murder a Jew.
I am not aligning myself with those who claim Azaria’s pure innocence, or with those who claim he is a Jewish hero for killing a terrorist. But emotionally, and perhaps even morally, many of us can relate to a sentiment of “a murderous terrorist deserves to die.” The day the Azaria verdict was handed down was an especially painful one for the survivors of terrorism. We are talking here about a person who just saw his friend hurt by this terrorist, and reacted emotionally. It was wrong, but not humanly incomprehensible.
Let us not confuse who represented the evil in this situation, involving a premeditated terrorist act versus a momentary instinct of anger and revenge. In Azaria’s words: “The terrorist who hurt my friend deserves to die.” Of course, soldiers can’t wield weapons and make life-and-death decisions from such a place. But simple this is not. This is not a murder case of an innocent civilian caught in the crosshairs of an evil or violent, gun-wielding person.
Also as a result of this is the dangerous possibility that in the future, IDF soldiers will fear reacting reflexively to real and present dangers, instead pausing, weighing the situation cerebrally, with the cost of such a delay being innocent blood spilled.
In this case, it seems that the clear and present danger had passed. The terrorist had been neutralized and apparently no longer presented a threat, according to Azaria’s commander, who communicated this to his soldiers.
I’ve also heard people express mourning for what, to their minds, was the final consensus in Israeli society: standing behind IDF soldiers. Exacerbating that is the thought of terrorists in Israeli prisons receiving decent treatment, even permission to study for college degrees, while an Israeli soldier’s life is ruined for killing a terrorist.
Which leads to an aspect of this case that is particularly infuriating: the B’Tselem NGO.
Immediately following the incident, Elor Azaria had in fact been reported by his IDF commander as someone who committed an unauthorized shooting. Immediately, the IDF military put this un-authorized shooting under investigation. Justice was being served. The case was headed for the military court.
B’Tselem, however, seems to have been foaming at the mouth at the chance to expose an IDF soldier and harm Israel in the process, so it took video footage to the meda. As if without its involvement, justice would not have been served.
Well, that’s a lie. The case was under investigation and had nothing to do with B’Tselem or its thinly veiled claims of standing for justice.
For the sadness of the pressure that IDF soldiers face while making in-the-moment decisions that inevitably they may sometimes get wrong and then ultimately have to pay for with their lives — and for the malevolent B’Tselem, which seems to relish harming Israel — even if justice was served, it a sad day for Israel.