Judges hoped to calm rage over Azaria. They failed

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER

LIKE “MIL­I­TARY music” and “mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence”, “mil­i­tary jus­tice” is a con­cept that can of­ten seem to be a con­tra­dic­tion in terms.

So it seemed to many on Tues­day morn­ing as the IDF mil­i­tary court sen­tenced Sergeant Elor Azaria to 18 months’ im­pris­on­ment and a de­mo­tion to the rank of pri­vate for the man­slaugh­ter of Ab­del Fat­tah a-Sharif last year in He­bron.

Af­ter the same court’s damn­ing ver­dict two months ago, which found Azaria guilty and took to pieces the case for the de­fence, a much stiffer sen­tence seemed likely to many.

To many crit­ics of Is­rael’s poli­cies to­wards the Pales­tini­ans in the West Bank, this is sim­ply fur­ther proof that

Pales­tinian life is con­sid­ered cheap.

There is some truth in this, but things are never that sim­ple in a court room where the judges and the ac­cused are wear­ing the same uni­form and the court has a duty not only to un­cover the truth and pun­ish the guilty, but also to safe­guard na­tional se­cu­rity as they see it.

The ex­pec­ta­tion that Azaria would re­ceive a sen­tence sim­i­lar to that of a civil­ian con­victed of man­slaugh­ter in a reg­u­lar court was never re­al­is­tic.

Not only be­cause the vic­tim was a Pales­tinian who, min­utes ear­lier, had tried to stab an­other sol­dier and was al­ready mor­tally wounded.

In the small num­ber of coun­tries where sol­diers can be court-mar­tialed for mis­con­duct on the bat­tle­field — or where po­lice are put on trial for bru­tal­ity to­wards civil­ians — the fact that sol­diers are given a weapon and sent on a mis­sion by the gov­ern­ment is al­most al­ways an ex­ten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stance and the sen­tence rou­tinely re­duced.

Even so, 18 months does seem very short, even for a mil­i­tary court.

The He­bron shoot­ing case was not re­ally about Elor Azaria or Ab­del Fat­tah a-Sharif. The judges had a duty to­wards the IDF, and the Is­raeli pub­lic, to make it clear that shoot­ing a in­ca­pac­i­tated as­sailant who no longer posed a threat was not just an op­er­a­tional mis­de­meanour, but a morally rep­re­hen­si­ble, crim­i­nal act.

They did that with a lengthy and un­equiv­o­cal sen­tence. Two months later, they pre­ferred a short, cus­to­dial sen­tence in the hope that the mes­sage of the ver­dict would al­low both the IDF and Is­raeli so­ci­ety to achieve clo­sure and move on.

If the ini­tial re­ac­tions in the court­room and in the coun­try are any­thing to go by, they seem to have failed.

Azaria has re­fused to ad­mit any guilt and is still sur­rounded by sup­port­ive fam­ily and ad­mir­ers. Ac­cord­ing to one flash poll, a ma­jor­ity of Is­raelis, in­clud­ing many min­is­ters, sup­port par­don­ing him. The pub­lic’s at­ti­tude may change over time, but if the judges thought a rel­a­tively le­nient sen­tence would shut the door on this case, they were wrong.

PHOTO: FLASH 90

Azaria awaits the fi­nal ver­dict

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