The Elor Azaria Case


UPDATE: Elor Azaria received a sentence of 18 months for this murder and is presently appealing the conviction. Read this Al Jazeera Article for more information. 

The Elor Azaria  case is tearing Israel apart. This is the case of a young medic named Elor Azaria who shot an unarmed Palestinian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, while he lay on the ground severely wounded and bleeding.

Azaria has been found guilty of manslaughter and will be sentenced next month, but it unlikely that the punishment will fit the crime. Riots and demonstrations have broken out demanding clemency.

Free Elor

What is unusual about this case is that it actually came to trial in the first place, since summary executions and extrajudicial killings of Palestinians happen on a daily basis.

I wrote about one of these cold-blooded killings in 2013 when 15 year-old Wajih al-Ramahid from the Jalazone Refugee Camp, was shot dead in the back by a sniper beside a UN school .

Three weeks later, another crime:  one of 3 kids that had crawled inside the Separation Barrier was shot and let bleed out to die and a short time after a 16 year old that stupidly pulled out a plastic gun at a check point in Hebron was shot by a female soldier. It was his birthday – the plastic gun was a birthday present.

There are hundreds of such cases every year. Officers routinely give orders to fire live ammunition at Friday demonstrations on the West Bank, often with fatal results.


A woman holds up a sign with ‘Too many terrorists in prison’ written on one side and ‘Kill them all’ written on the other during a rally in Tel Aviv on April 19, 2016. (Jack Guez/AFP Source: Times of Israel)

These killings and many others like them by soldiers and settlers hardly ever result in a trial, or conviction. But this case was different.

The difference in the Azaria case is that it was caught on camera and video. The video, provided by Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, was on TV and the internet within 24 hours.

The initial reaction among mainstream Israelis was shock – How could one of our “moral army” soldiers do this? Generally, mainstream Israelis don’t know, or want to know, what their sons and daughters in uniform do in the Occupied Territories.

What happens on the West Bank stays on the West Bank.

While Israelis on the left say the trial and conviction was justified because it was a criminal act, the right wing majority regard the trial as a travesty. After all, they say, the  teenage soldier Elor was just doing his duty. He was protecting his people , and he only shot an “Arab” terrorist who would probably attack again if he was not eliminated.

Elor Azaria

Photo source:

An article translated by Partners for Progressive Israel suggests another layer of complication  – that Azaria, a Mizrahi  Jew,  was a “black peon” in a stratified Israeli society.

“If he was a Fishman from Tel Aviv, it would have been handled quietly”, says the father of a fellow soldier.

Israeli columnist, Uri Avnery wrote about the event:

“So what is so special about this case? Similar acts happen all the time, though not on camera. It’s routine. Especially in Hebron, where a few hundred fanatical settlers live among 160,000 Palestinians.. “

He goes on to say,

 “ In the clip ,  Azaria is seen shaking hands with somebody immediately after the killing. This person is no other than Baruch Marzel, the king of the Tel Rumaida settlers. Marzel is the successor of “Rabbi” Meir Kahane, who was branded as a fascist by the Supreme Court of Israel”. ……… “During the trial it was revealed that Marzel plays host every Saturday to the entire company of Israeli soldiers guarding the settlement, including the officers. This means that Azaria was exposed to his fascist ideas before the shooting event. “

At a recent conference I attended,  a well known Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy,  explained how mainstream Israel justifies these murders.

He says mainstream Israelis do not regard Palestinians as humans; they have learned to hate them as the enemy from childhood. Israelis believe they are the chosen people and the Palestinians do not belong in this land. They see themselves as victims. Soldiers and settlers believe they should kill before they are killed, even if the threat is very light. Government rhetoric, the education system and the media reinforce this mantra all the time.

Levy put it succinctly when he said, “there is no guilt or qualms of conscience when they kill the demonized enemy”.

For the government and the army the trial was important to show that Israel is a democracy and it processes criminals, even its own. But now the calls for leniency or a pardon reveals the other side – if Elor Azaria was a Palestinian, he would be sentenced to 30 years in prison, but this is a selective democracy.

Human Rights and Civil Rights do not apply to Palestinians in this Promised Land.

In the case of Elor Azaria, it will be interesting to see if the punishment will fit the crime.


January 7 2017


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