Elor Azarya, the soldier-medic who got 18 months prison for killing an alleged Palestinian assailant by a bullet to the head point-blank, yesterday was denied pardon by the President Reuven Rivlin, as Haaretz reports (Hebrew).
Less than two months ago, Azarya’s sentence was cut by 4 months, by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. The statement noted that Azarya had already ‘endured a lot’. Haaretz correspondent Amos Harel had already assessed at that point that Azarya, who only begun serving his sentence in August, would possibly be out in March 2018 on good behavior, anyway. Seeing that so many, including the court, see Azarya as a “positive personality” and consider him to be “a normative person” until his “complication” (these are quotes from the court sentence), there is really no reason to believe that this “child with the smile of an angel”, as his mother calls him, would be out any later than next spring – right in time for Passover, the holiday of liberation.
But now begins the game of good-cop/bad-cop between President Rivlin and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The bad cop is now President Rivlin, who rejected the pardon appeal, noting that “from study of the material presented before him, the President has learned that in the verdict, the military courts have considered the circumstances described by you, which appear in part in the pardon appeal, as mitigating circumstances, and have commented that in consideration of these they have eased your sentence”. Rivlin referred to the September cutting of 4 months, noting that this was “from considerations of charity and mercy considering your military service as a soldier in the combat arena”, and said he wouldn’t cut it further, since
“[F]urther easing of the penalty would hurt the strength of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the State of Israel. The values of the IDF which include purity of arms are a fundament in the power of the IDF and always with us in the just fight for our right to a national and secure home and in the building of a strong society”.
So, with all the Zionist-nationalist bravura, the President wouldn’t ease Azarya’s misfortune twice over, as it were.
Yet Defense Minister Lieberman, playing ‘bad cop‘, was in dissent:
“In this particular case, there was place for consideration of the public interest, the need to mend the tears in society and the effect of the event and the trial upon IDF soldiers and the youth awaiting draft.”
He added that “we mustn’t forget that we are speaking of a distinguished soldier and of a terrorist who came to kill”– referring to Azarya’s victim, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, 21, who had already been shot by Israeli forces and lay incapacitated in the street.
Aye, all this is very traumatic for the whole of society. Lieberman’s rendering poses Azarya as “distinguished”, whilst his victim is but a “terrorist.” This echoes Netanyahu’s statement from last year, that “the IDF and security forces are not murderers”, and they can’t be, ostensibly because “IDF soldiers and Israeli police put their lives on the line to defend themselves and innocent civilians from bloodthirsty terrorists who try to kill them”. Lieberman’s mentioning of the “tears in society” echo the notion that “Elor pays for us all” – the slogan of the Azarya supporters, featured on grocery bags which were distributed by a major Israeli supermarket chain earlier this year.
Minister of Culture Miri Regev backed Lieberman and fired back against the President: “The President has harmed the institution of pardon and chose to abandon Elor as well”.
Watch this spot as the Azarya saga further unfolds with more farcical developments.
H/t Yoav Litvin for drawing the update to my attention.