Azaria Verdict: A Letter To Armchair Quarterbacks/Backseat Drivers

Will we let the Elor Azaria verdict tear apart our social fabric? We are struggling to define ourselves as a modern nation built on the ashes of our ancient homeland and how we come out from this latest challenge will play a part in that, for better or for worse.

Dear Armchair Quarterback / Backseat Driver:

My chest aches when I see Elor Azaria and his parents, or even when I just think about them. I can imagine (or maybe I cannot imagine) the overwhelming burden of carrying an entire nation on their shoulders. That is what has become of their ordeal, an ordeal that should never, in my opinion, have reached the dimensions that it has.

Rightly or wrongly, three judges unanimously determined that Elor Azaria is guilty of manslaughter. There is now only one thing that can overturn that verdict and that is an appeal and it has nothing to do with the noise you are making in the streets or on the social media. Send in your petitions and demonstrate in the streets – I doubt this will have much, if any, effect; but if it makes you feel good, then at least be careful you do not add coal to the emotional fires of our aching nation as I promise to be careful myself.

There is nobody who is unaffected by seeing a young man handed down a harsh verdict for having killed a terrorist. I wish he had been there earlier and could have taken out his anger when the act was still in progress, something that everyone from top to bottom, right to left and front to back would have agreed was justified. I think we have mostly, if not all, reached the point where we prefer terrorists to be killed in action rather than wounded and taken in for questioning and imprisonment. But even that depends on the circumstances.

I am NOT sorry the terrorist was killed; please do not misunderstand me. I am sorry Azaria killed him in a way that contradicted, according to the court, Israel Defense Force (IDF) Rules of Engagement (ROE). I have no doubt soldiers in the field know the difference between the fatal neutralizing of the two terrorists who sought to stab our soldiers in Hebron that day: one a justified killing before the incident was contained and the other an unjustified killing that took place afterward. Remember, only one killing from that incident went on trial.

Niv Shtendel and Jonathan Tobin believe that clarifying the distinction between the two killings — for soldiers and the general Israeli public — was behind the strong condemnations of Azaria’s act expressed by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and others. They did this viciously and far too early on to have had any salutary effect. Instead, they contributed to the fissure we are now experiencing, damaging the potential for productive debate and analysis among us, and making it hard to believe that the Azaria verdict was untarnished by political or diplomatic interests.

If we, the people of Israel, can rise above this horrendous start to dealing with the Azaria affair, perhaps we can drag our politicians after us. Is the demonstration in Tel Aviv last night (Saturday, 7 Jan) a start in repairing the hate?

Is Elor Azaria a Hero?

The case is only part-way through at this point. Elor Azaria has yet to be sentenced. The verdict part is dry and follows rules of evidence and more. Sentencing is the part where heart can be brought in. I hope that the judges do that. And I hope they do that independently of whatever you and I think. I want the judges to be true to the LAW and, while it is important that they take social issues into consideration, I do not want the street to dictate to the court any more than I would like politicians or Chiefs of Staff to dictate to the court.

Here is Where To Get Out of Your Armchair or Move to the Front Seat and Drive

If you think the laws are not right – you want a shoot-to-kill-the-terrorist in all cases, then lobby the government through Members of Knesset you believe would push for that. If you think there should be a law that would protect all soldiers from criminal prosecution for acts done while in a combat zone even after the scene has been secured, then support the MKs who have just proposed this exact law and lobby the government on their behalf. Ditto for anything that has come to your attention as a result of this case and its (mis)management at any stage . . . if you think of a law that can improve the situation for soldiers, the IDF, and ultimately for all of us, then go for it!

This article first appeared on Israel Diaries.

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One comment

  1. Very well said Sheri. I agree with you 100%. Just wish there was an English translation available.