On Monday in Israel there were two parallel events:
1) The Israeli military appeals court denied Ahed Tamimi, 17, the request of an open trial on charges stemming from her slapping an Israeli soldier occupying her home last December 15, claiming a closed trial was “in her best interest”.
2) The Israeli military parole board further shortened Elor Azarya’s prison sentence for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian suspect in the head at point blank-range, killing him in 2016, to 9 months, after the army chief of staff had reduced the original 18 month sentence to 14 months.
These two stories are a mirror of each other.
In Tamimi’s case, many Israelis want a price to be exacted from her for slapping an Israeli occupation soldier. Some suggested that she should be punished “in the dark, without witnesses or cameras” (‘centrist’ Israeli journalist Ben Caspit), or that she should “end her days in prison” (Education Minister Naftali Bennett). The decision to close the doors on her trial initially came last month at the first hearing. The military judge opined that it is in Ahed’s best interest as a juvenile to have a closed case, and the appeals judge doubled down on that view – despite the fact the military prosecution itself did not object to its being open.
“The court decided what is best for the court, and not what is good for Ahed,” Ahed’s defense attorney Gaby Lasky told reporters last month, and it is still doing so.
The military appeals court tried to explain its rejection by portraying itself as if it were a normal civilian court:
“The accumulated experience over the eight years that the juvenile military court has existed has taught us that giving the minor and his family a real chance to make their arguments in an intimate framework of proceedings that aren’t open to the general public is a basic component of conducting fair and just proceedings. In this, the judicial process in the military courts isn’t any different than the process before a civilian court. Therefore, even if the process before a military juvenile court is slightly different than before a civilian court I also agree that closing the proceedings in the case of minor defendants must be the rule and it usually expresses the best interests of the minor.” (Cited in Haaretz).
The whole notion that this military court system is a ‘normal’ system of justice is contradicted by prominent Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard:
“Israeli military law is not about justice”, he said last month. “It is set up to label every act of resistance, violent or nonviolent, as criminal” and the military court system is just another branch of an occupying army. “It is not about justice,” he said. “Its main objective is to curb any attempt of resistance and enhance the control over the population”.
Fadi Quran, a senior campaigner at the U.S. based civic organization Avaaz and coordinator of the Free The Tamimis campaign, pointed out the hypocrisy concerning Monday’s decision:
“Although the Israeli military and judge claim they want it to be a closed trial for Ahed’s privacy, Ahed has been threatened with sexual assault and murder, the army televised her arrest, and attacked her family,” Quran told Yumna Patel. “Israel has made an immense effort to endanger her by putting her in the public spotlight for the past four months and by targeting her family for the last 10 years. It is hypocritical now to claim they want to protect her privacy when they have already violated it hundreds of times.”
All this will hardly bother most Israelis, who want the Ahed issue to quietly go away. Let the price be “exacted” from her in the dark, without witnesses and cameras – we don’t need to know more.
But now to the parallel issue of great concern for so many Israelis: the early release of Elor Azarya.
The calls for Azarya’s immediate and full pardon came from across the Israeli political spectrum last year, including left Zionist Union leader Shelley Yachimovitch.
Regarding his recent parole, Jerusalem Post notes that “the early release by the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] parole board is likely to be received positively by much of the country’s political class”.
Israel had to put on a trial with the resulting short sentence, in order to provide a semblance of justice in a case where cold-blooded murder happened to be filmed in broad daylight. The charge was of course reduced to begin with, from murder to ‘manslaughter’, because, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kept saying, “our soldiers are not murderers”. To even suggest such a possibility is considered extreme and dangerous in Israel; Palestinian-Israeli lawmaker Haneen Zoabi was suspended from the parliament last week just for making that assertion.
So Azarya is a kind of hero for many in Israel, where they consider him a kind of scapegoat who is ‘paying for us all’. Trying him was important for the liberals, so that it would not appear as if Israel applies full impunity to murderers. Although Azarya’s own soldier comrades testified that such cases occur “tons of times” (but are not filmed), Azarya was treated, conveniently, as an aberration. But for his supporters who think he did the right thing, Azarya is himself the hero who is paying for the sins of the ‘politically correct’ who put him on trial in the first place. It should be noted that in the immediate wake of his shooting, surveys showed that 57% of Jewish Israelis opined that no investigation or detention of Azarya was necessary, and 95% opined it was not murder. These polls essentially show that most Israelis think that it should be possible to kill Palestinians with impunity.
There is another recent case that demonstrates this attitude: In a recent development of a case concerning the killing of 16-year old Palestinian Samir Awad in Budrus, the defense attorneys for the two soldiers actually argued that “convicting the soldiers would be a selective enforcement of the law, since it is rare for an indictment to be brought against Israel Defense Force soldiers who shoot and kill Palestinians” (as reported by Haaretz). The attorneys presented military data showing that in the last seven years, out of 110 cases in which soldiers had shot and killed Palestinians, only four indictments were filed. Sadly and ironically they have a case – most often, justice is not applied to soldiers who kill – why single out any soldiers and deny them the standard impunity?
This impunity is also a moral one. The soldiers who occupied the Tamimi house and village are supposed to be considered moral. To slap them is to sin against this moral stature. Don’t you dare slap those moral Israeli soldiers who shoot kids in the face– as they did to Ahed Tamimi’s cousin Muhammed just before her famous slap to the soldier. Don’t you dare face them off like that. Such action is bound to “turn the stomach” of any Israeli (again quoting Ben Caspit) and boil their blood.
Thus Ahed Tamimi can, and must be imprisoned, until the end of procedures (because she could, God forbid, slap again), and who knows how long a prison sentence she will get for that slap. It is estimated that it could be 10 years. Yet her trial must be held behind closed doors. Because unlike the clear-cut murder which Azarya was filmed committing (which almost all Israeli Jews cannot even see when they watch it), her case involves a far greater complexity. The evidence is hardly incriminating (what law is there against slapping soldiers?), and wide public scrutiny may risk exposing the farce of this trial, wherein the Israeli occupation ‘tailors’ need to tailor a case for Ahed in order to make her a terrorist.
Azarya is going to be out of prison at the latest on the 10th of May – just 9 months after beginning to serve his sentence. Sources close to President Rivlin suggest that he may commute Azarya’s sentence even more. Rivlin had first denied pardoning Azarya after the Chief of Staff’s reduction, but the sources suggest he may yet add his pardon to the party, in the very end, and cut an additional few weeks off of the sentence so as to have Azarya released for the Independence Day celebration on April 18th, and ahead of the anticipated opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem.
As Israel celebrates its ‘independence’, its ‘liberation’ on top of the ruin and exile of Palestinians, so Elor Azarya is to celebrate his ‘liberation’ on top of the ruin of Ahed Tamimi’s life, with no end in sight to her captivity.