On Thursday the 24th of March Israeli medic soldier Orel Azarya murdered Palestinian Abed Al Fatah Al Sharif, who was wounded and immobile on a street in Al Khalil (Hebron), with a bullet to the head. Azarya could be said to have been following the ‘humane’ guidance of Major General (ret.) Amiram Levin, former head of Northern Command, who said “most of these people are born to die anyway, we just need to help them to it.” (Recently Levin continued his humane and liberal stance in his defense of Breaking the Silence.)
The murder was a no-brainer case, filmed in detail. This was to be the test of how Israel and Israelis respond when faced with a par excellence extrajudicial execution murder. No more mere allegations by “stupid” , “antisemite” world politicians such as Swedish Foreign Minister Wallström.
But whilst the political and military leadership had to do a quick damage control to protect the image abroad, the Israeli public at large seemed less willing to enact such a liberal volte face. Whilst Defense minister Moshe Yaalon and Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot regarded the soldier as “erring” and spoke of applying justice to those who violate the Israeli Defense Forces moral code, most of the Israeli public – in fact over 2/3, disagreed with the admonishing critique of the leadership, according to an Israeli survey aired on Channel 2. Nearly three out of five Israelis said Azarya should never have been arrested. Only 5% actually opined it was “murder”. These views were nonetheless not completely absent from the leadership and IDF, even in this embarrassing light: Education Minister Naftali Bennett regarded him as “certainly not a murderer”, and the IDF managed to quickly downgrade the charge to “manslaughter” .
Eisenkot’s special address to soldiers a week after the murder said they must uphold moral conduct, yet stated that soldiers “erring in the heat of battle would be protected”. Ostensibly a thoughtful distinction – but one that opens the door to ‘interpretations’ of what ‘heat of battle’ means. The soldiers from Azarya’s company were alluding to the ‘hard trauma’ experienced by a soldier in such ‘heat of battle’ .
The term “erred” is also somewhat confusing, when political and security leadership across the board called for a shoot-to-kill policy as far back as last October.
Yet whilst the polls and the discourse circle around the murder, there is one term that seems to be unquestioned, taken for granted by most all Israelis, by Israeli media, and by mainstream international media parroting the term: “terrorist”.
As activist and writer Miko Peled notes, eyewitnesses say that Al Sharif was not the stabber, and that he was shot whilst raising his arms in the air in surrender. But even if one disputes this, and assumes that he was assisting the stabber, who lightly wounded a soldier before the stabber was shot dead, even then, Al Sharif would not be a terrorist. Because armed resistance to occupation falls squarely under international law and UN resolutions. The victim was not a civilian, but an occupation soldier.
But who even cares to make such distinctions anymore? Can’t we just have it easy, and assume Al Sharif was guilty, because he is Palestinian? Can’t we just take it for granted that he was a terrorist?
As the terms are twisted, so are our minds. Israel’s Supreme Court factually legalised torture in 1987 by calling it ‘moderate physical pressure’. The Americans followed the lead in their ‘war on terror’ from 2001, calling it ‘enhanced interrogations’.
In this ‘heat of battle’, in this ‘war on terror’, anything can happen. Anyone can be a terrorist. And murder – well, that just has to be open to discussion.
Orwell was a prophet.