The verdict in the court-martial of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria was announced yesterday. He was found guilty of manslaughter in the shooting a Palestinian terrorist after he was already “neutralized.” The man had already been shot and was lying on the ground bleeding. Azaria arrived on the scene supposedly 10 mins after the shooting, calmly walked towards the body and shot the terrorist in the head, killing him. Azaria was arrested and charged with unlawful killing and shooting a suspect without orders.
This case for the last three months has divided Israel. There are those who say that the man was a terrorist and deserved to be killed. There are those who say that the IDF has definite orders, that shooting a defenceless man lying on the ground, even if he is a terrorist, is immoral and is against the IDF code of conduct that all soldiers are expected to follow, that includes shooting only when your life or those of your comrades are in danger.
Many will interpret the verdict to show that Israel is not only a country of laws, but even the lives of terrorists are protected once they are neutralized. But, others will see this trial as a sign of weakness and will say that this terrorist deserved to die. However, many questions arose, in a video of the shooting it is clear that the terrorist does move. Azaria stated that he saw him move and was afraid that he might have a weapon and could kill other IDF soldiers on the scene. But, the movement is slight only his head moved and this could hardly be considered a danger. Also, there were senior officers present and none of them gave Azaria an order to shoot. There was a photographer present who saw the movement of the terrorist and supposedly said something like “is he alive?” but this should not have influenced Azaria.
Several senior IDF officers, including then Defense Minster Ya’alon and current Chief of Staff Gaby Eisenkot, have made statements to the effect that the IDF rules of conduct must be adhered to. But, others have said that Azaria was acting correctly in a dangerous situation and ensuring the safety of his comrades. He was seen by the right as a scapegoat for the upper echelons and by the left as a virtual executioner. Now that the verdict has been announced it is unlikely that this schism will be healed easily.
In many people’s opinion this was an unfortunate case, that could have been resolved without a huge public and costly trial. Azaria could have been demoted, or he could have been suspended, or he could have been reprimanded. Under such exigent circumstances to take this to a trial was a very bad decision. But, once that decision was made the guilty verdict was the only one that could be arrived at. The shooting was unnecessary and against the IDF’s code of conduct. Hopefully Azaria will receive a short sentence or a pardon as suggested by PM Netanyahu and other Ministers.
It has been argued that this trial will cause other soldiers to hesitate in shooting terrorists, but on the basis of current evidence that seems not to be the case. This trial and the guilty verdict may have an unexpected outcome, namely the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is not supposed to try soldiers of countries that have their own effective military court system.