In an interview with a right-wing Israeli newspaper, Elor Azaria, said he had “no remorse whatsoever” for killing an incapacitated Palestinian in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron in 2016.
After an alleged stabbing attack against Israeli occupying soldiers, the young Palestinian man, Abd al Fattah Al-Sharif, had already been shot and was seriously wounded. He was lying motionless on the ground, surrounded by many Israeli soldiers. In the video of the murder documented by the Human Rights Defenders in Hebron and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem (warning: many viewers may find this video and the others below, to be disturbing), two other soldiers were closer to the wounded man, and it is clear they did not see him as a threat anymore.
Out of nowhere, Azaria cocks his weapon, aims at Al-Sharif, and fires one round into his head. A pool of blood begins to stream down the street. This was an extrajudicial execution, plain and simple. Again, the man was motionless and posed absolutely no clear and present danger, which is why the two soldiers who were standing close to Al-Sharif were not expecting anyone to fire at him, as is visible by their reactions.
Azaria also did not cock his weapon nor fire with a sense of urgency that would indicate a true threat. The fact that his rifle was not already cocked implies that there was no present danger. He just did not expect to be caught on camera while murdering someone, and probably thought he would get away with killing a Palestinian.
One might say that Azaria is simply a bad apple and does not reflect the behavior or attitudes of Israeli occupying soldiers. The problem is, there are many documented videos of Israeli forces behaving in such a callous way. Below are just a few examples of documented Israeli brutality against Palestinians, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are also plenty of examples where such ruthlessness was not captured on camera.
In this video taken by Israeli soldiers themselves, a sniper shoots a Palestinian protester on the other side of the fence in Gaza. He screams in joy after hitting him, and exclaims, “Wow, what a video!” Another soldier seems to be impressed that the man was shot in his head.
In 2014, Defence for Children International released a video showing surveillance footage of two Palestinian teenagers gunned down and killed by Israeli forces, despite the fact that these children did not pose any danger.
In another video documented by B’Tselem, an Israeli soldier is thrilled after hitting a Palestinian protester in a town near Nablus. The same soldier is disappointed that they are using rubber bullets, instead of normal ones (even though rubber bullets can also be lethal). In the same video, a soldier tells another of his plan to fire tear gas in a way that will cause the photographers to get all the gas.
In this video taken in Ramallah, Israeli police run over a protester with their vehicle. Then one of them knocks the protester in the head with his rifle, stomps on him, and walks on top of him. Then they rough up the Palestinian medics and prevent them from treating the injured man. In the same video, one of the medics is seen being carried away on a stretcher, and a reporter is manhandled and assaulted by the police.
And one cannot forget the cold-blooded murder on June 1, 2018 of Razan Najjar, a volunteer paramedic who was treating an injured Palestinian protester east of Khan Younis in Gaza. Apparently, Ms. Najjar was running in the direction of the border fence to reach one of casualties of the protest. Despite wearing a white uniform and clearly raising her hands high, indicating that she is a medical worker, an Israeli sniper nevertheless mercilessly shot her in the chest. Ms. Najjar had no weapon whatsoever and was clearly not attempting to breach the heavily fortified Israeli security fence with Gaza. Yet she was still gunned down like an animal. In this case, it is rather fortunate that there was no video of the actual murder. One does not need to witness another barbaric execution.
So, how does Israel get away with such brazen executions of human beings? Simply put, Israel can murder Palestinians because it can, and it faces almost no consequences for doing so. For executing an unarmed, incapacitated man, as shown by clear and overwhelming video evidence, Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter, not murder (it is worth noting that Azaria lied and tried to claim that he feared the Palestinian man had an explosive vest and that he tried to reach for a knife, both of which were clearly untrue). He only served nine months in prison for this killing. The Israeli officer who killed the two teenagers also received only nine months.
To put this into perspective and to show the double standard in Israeli convictions, one can look at the cases of five boys from East Jerusalem who received longer prison sentences for throwing stones. These boys received sentences ranging from two years and four months to three years and three months in prison. Ahed Tamimi, the teenager who slapped two Israeli soldiers while protesting in response to her 15-year old cousin being shot in the head at close range by an Israeli rubber-coated steel bullet, received an eight-month prison sentence. How does it make any sense that Palestinian minors engaging in civil disobedience against their occupiers receive such long prison sentences, while Israeli murderers are let off after nine months?
What makes Azaria’s case even more despicable is the fact that he was serving specifically as an Israeli medic in the occupying forces. This is someone who took an oath to provide medical care and save lives, “to extend a helping hand to any who is injured or ill, be he lowly or venerable, friend or foe – to any fellow man.” Obviously, Azaria is a dishonorable and cruel person, and his desire to kill a Palestinian is greater than his desire to save a human being.
Again, one might say that Azaria is just a horrible example of someone serving in any military who commits a dreadful crime simply because he is a psychopath, someone who is dishonest and manipulative, and lacks remorse or empathy.
If Azaria’s actions were such an anomaly, why is it that within hours, an online crowdfunding campaign to support him raised at least 400,000 Israeli shekels (around 110,000 US dollars)? Why is it that he received a “hero’s welcome” when he returned for the first time to the scene of the murder?
Why is it that 70 percent of Israelis supported clemency for Azaria, and only 19% said that he should not be pardoned? This 70 percent includes Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, minister of education Naftali Bennet, and other senior officials. These are the people who represent a large segment of the Israeli public. Bennet even said that Azaria should be pardoned “without him serving a single day in prison.” He added that punishing Azaria would send the wrong message to other Israeli soldiers in similar situations. For Bennet and many other Israelis, it seems that the right message is that soldiers should be able to kill Palestinians without hesitation.
These are just some of the questions that Israelis must ask themselves. Azaria had no remorse for taking a human life, but it does not seem that many Israelis had much remorse either.