Monday, July 16, 2018 -
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He who hesitates can carry blood guilt

Today, Elor Azaria is going to jail.

He is the Israeli soldier who faced a terror attack, then shot a Palestinian dead who was already neutralized, and was convicted.

What a sad day.

I feel like he has become a sacrifice of sorts.

Whether you think he is a good soldier who accidentally made the wrong call in a pressured terror situation, or whether he engaged in a horrible act of revenge, or is a national hero who deserves a medal, today is a sad day.

Since the story broke a few months back, I have read many documents and testimonies related to this case.

It is no longer so clear to me Elor Azaria even made a mistake or the wrong call.

Not just because of the incredible dignity with which the young Elor Azaria has conducted himself.

And not because he has stood his ground that he did what was right, in the face of enormous pressure to express contrition and thus lower his sentence or receive a pardon.

It’s just that the more you read about this case, and the more you hear actual testimony from those present, the murkier the story gets. Certainly, the classic legal definition of proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt seems far-fetched in Azaria’s case.

Add to that the reality that Azaria is going to jail over the killing of a rampaging murderer, a man who minutes before the fatal shot was fired, was acting with the intent to kill, stabbing and killing innocents,, and Azaria’s imprisonment hurts even more.

Even if one believes he was wrong, let’s remember that we are not talking about the killing of an innocent man.

Not that violence or killing when not in self-defense is justified, but the circumstances certainly color the picture. Somehow there is this warped perception that the status of a Palestinian who was engaged in attempted murder reverts to that of a normative civilian once he is neutralized.

Like we saw in London recently, the moment police found the terrorist perpetrators, they were killed on the spot. Not a peep of protest could be heard from anyone. Here was a terrorist who came to kill, and the legal assumption is: Stop him before (more) innocent human lives are taken.

This Azaria story has turned into a sad saga, with Azaria at its center.

However, on some level, it feels like it was not just Azaria on trial, but a standard of ethics and values were put on trial.

The subtext of this trial is that the biblical dictum of “when one rises to kill you, preempt him in the killing” has been rewritten by some in Israel to be “when one rises to kill you, preempt him and kill yourself/or have yourself killed.” That may sound cynical, and a part of me is surprised to hear those thoughts in my own head. Still, I wonder, why is killing your own or allowing your own to be killed not unethical?

A distorted and false righteousness masks deeper issues. For example, the Azaria matter became a political issue, not just an internally resolved military one, due to a video filmed by leftists.

This case that ought to have been dealt with internally as a combat issue. Instead, sadly, politics took over. Between the military brass, the legal system, the media who crucified him, this is not how one treats a loyal, devoted, young soldier who protects Jewish lives in the Jewish state.

We are not talking about someone on a revengeful killing rampage here, the likes of the outlier Baruch Goldstein. No, quite the opposite; Azaria was in fact responding to just such a man, whose terrorism, unfortunately, is not the act of a lone outlier.

The “what if” scenario that was assumed in Israeli media was that Azaria made a mistake, that the terrorist was wrongly killed rather than sentenced to jail for his crime. Here is the “what if” scenario that was not assumed: The terrorist survived and detonated himself, with more innocent human lives lost at the scene of this crime — due to Azaria’s hesitancy.

How does anyone know which “what if” scenario was the most apparent to Azaria at the time? How can the media be so sure that its “what if” scenario was the correct one?

The truth is, no one knows what would have, could have, or should have, exactly happened.

What we do know is that a terrorist was killed and no subsequent innocent lives were lost.

When one reads the initial reports, before the sanitized versions were layered over them, it seems quite clear that there was a reasonable basis for Azaria to believe danger was still present.

Anecdotally, I read the heartrending testimony of a soldier who was in a similar situation to Elor Azaria’s.

He made the opposite call. He didn’t shoot the terrorist before him dead. To this day, he lives with the paralyzing pain. If only he had not hesitated (he was unsure whether the neutralized terrorist lying before him was simply fat or had a bomb under his coat) due to fear of legal consequences in the event the terrorist turned out not to be harboring a bomb. Then, his friends and fellow soldiers would still be alive today.

He carries the guilt of their blood in his heart.

Many seem so sure of Elor Azaria’s guilt.

Many seem so sure of Elor Azaria’s fatal error.

Many seem so sure justice for Elor Azaria has been served.

I’m not so sure.

I still think about all those other, very possible “what ifs.”

Copyright © 2017 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

2 thoughts on “He who hesitates can carry blood guilt

  1. Shaul Amir

    I hate to carry domestic arguments outside israel, but felt compelled to reply to Tehilla’s biased article about the rogue soldier Azaria.
    As it happen, my point of view is not biased by my political views in this case but based on many years of militatry service in many wars that many times put me in the same dilemma, kill a wounded and disabled enemy or not. I did not!!!
    1. Azaria was found guilty by two levels of military courts and eight judges, of manslaughter.
    2. Azaria has arrived to the scene 11minutes after the terrorist was neutralised. He told his friends, this terrorist has to die just ‘cos he tried to kill my friends. He then took his helmet off, slowly and without any rush, aimed his rifle to the head of the terrorists and shot him in the head.
    3. There were absolutely no evidence for the danger of explosives on the body of the terrorist, as if there was, the soldiers and medics would have not been standing close and around the wounded terrorist.
    4. Nobody asked Azaria to be the judge, jury and executioner of the terrorist nobody gave him an order to shoot. Our military is not a vigilante army that anybody does whatever he wants to do.
    5. Azaria’s background and home bringing was of extreme right wing education (support for Kahanah and many more posts in his FB about killing all the Arabs etc), no wonder he did what he did. He is entitled to his views but while in the military one has to obey only one’s commander.

    The debate around this case became to be political. Political personalities from the right trying to “shine” were riding on the back of this soldier. Trying to score political points. He changed lawyers during the trial and employed a hideous, foul mouthed extreme right wing lawyer who only got him deeper in the mess.

    If Azaria, after the event, would have gone to his direct commander to say, I made a mistake I shouldn’t have done what I did, he would have been a free man by now. He did not and even, to date, show any remorse when asking for amnesty from the COS of the Israeli army, I doubt if he will get any amnesty whatsoever. I would not give it to him. He should sit his term and rethink his action.

  2. Adrienne Fuks

    Azaria is an arrogant young man who definitely deserves to sit in prison. The terrorist was already lying lifeless on the ground when Azaria showed up 11 minutes after the attack. He is no hero, rather a coward with a gun in his hand. He never showed remorse for his crime, only remorse for being on trial.
    His case has further divided Israeli society. It would have been a terrible day if he had been found innocent. In no way was the day of his conviction “sad”.


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