“I’m glad it’s over”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, as Elor Azarya, the soldier-medic who shot the incapacitated Palestinian suspect Abdel Fatah Al Sharif, returned home from his prison term served for ‘manslaughter’, after merely 9 months.
The release was early on several counts: First, what was clearly murder got reduced to a ‘manslaughter’ charge to begin with. Then, despite the court noting that Azarya showed no remorse and in fact had said that Al Sharif “deserved to die”, despite the court noting “we have dealt with a case in which the committing of the felony and the level of guilt of the defendant are of excessive egregiousness”, noting that “the reason for shooting by the defendant was not rooted in a sense of danger”, the court gave him a ridiculous sentence of 1.5 years, at the low end of the term suggested even by the prosecution (14-48 months).
Right after Azarya started serving his term, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot cut the sentence by 4 months (because Azarya had already “endured a lot”). President Rivlin denied a further pardon a few months later, and was labelled a traitor by many of Azarya’s fans on the right (despite publicized rumors that Rivlin might pardon Azarya in the very end, he did not do so).
In late March, the Military Parole Board cut a further one-third of Azarya’s sentence, ordering his release in May.
Azarya was thus supposed to be released yesterday (Thursday), but actually got out Tuesday – so as to not miss his brother’s wedding, which just happened to be on Wednesday. Azarya was greeted like a real hero when arriving home, with Israeli flags and signs saying “It’s so good to have you home, the soldier of us all,” and “Welcome home, Elor the hero.”
Various cabinet ministers were jubilant. Education Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted a picture of Azaria at home with his family, and wrote:
“Elor, it’s so good to have you home.”
Several ministers went even further than jubilantly congratulating Azarya – they even called for erasing his criminal record.
Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz:
“It was time for Elor to go home to his family and friends. I appeal to President Reuven Rivlin to act now to delete Elor’s criminal record so that he can integrate into civilian life and get on with his life”.
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev:
“I wish for Elor and his family to return to a normal way of life. There remains just one more objective: to wipe Elor’s criminal record.”
It is important to note, that the notion of a mere criminal record being a burden in itself, had already featured in the court conclusion accompanying its sentence early last year. At the time, the court concluded:
“After we have examined the collectivity of circumstances, including the substantial contribution of the soldier to the army and to the country as a combat soldier, his positive personality and his being a normative person until his current complication [sic], the extended period in which the defendant had already resided in open detention, the damages caused to the defendant and to his family members due to the whole affair, and the criminal registration accompanying his very conviction, all judges were convinced, that his penalty must be set within the lower end of the range of suitable penalty.”
I had already referred in detail to the representation of Azarya as a “positive personality and his being a normative person,” even though Azarya shares his genocidal values openly with his close family, which supports them too. If Azarya is “normative” by the court, then it deems genocide “normative”. But furthermore, see the focus upon the “criminal registration accompanying his very conviction”, presented as a mitigating circumstance for the setting of the penalty at the “lower end”. This is circular logic which basically suggests that all criminals should receive lenient sentences – simply because they are on trial. Their sentences should be reduced, because their registration as criminals may harm them in the future.
Lawmakers from the minority Joint (Arab) List were warning of the dire consequences of the mentioned jubilations. MK Aida Touma-Suleiman:
“A government that embraces heinous murderers and praises their release is a government that is preparing the ground and giving a green light for the next murder,” she said in a statement. “The murder [Azaria] carried out with his own hands is in fact a murder that was done by all those who continue to incite, in every direction, against the Palestinian people and against the Arab public. It is galling to see Azaria free after only nine months in prison. His release today sends a tough message that Palestinian blood is cheap.”
MK Yousef Jabareen:
“The forgiving and sympathetic attitude that we are witness to in the Azaria saga, which reached a climax today with his release, has transformed Azaria from a murderer into a hero, and in practice authorizes the next murder.”
Now this hero, who had “endured a lot”, also has to have his criminal record cleansed. Because like with the ongoing Nakba denial, when Israeli soldiers murder Palestinians, it needs to be denied, it needs to be erased, and if the soldiers happen to be caught on film, then they themselves become victims of aggression, and they end up having to “pay for us all”. And we don’t want to pay at all. Crimes? What crimes? Palestinians? What Palestinians?