I was devastated when I learned of the verdict convicting Israeli soldier Elor Azaria of manslaughter. Not because of the Israeli court’s decision, which I found to be well thought out and fair. No, it was the reaction of many of my friends and former neighbors calling Azaria a hero that chilled me. I’ve seen this kind of justification for killing before. It’s the same rationale that has led to numerous deaths of young Black men at the hands of American police.
It is not a matter of dispute that Abdel Fattah Sharif attacked soldiers, and was brought down in response to that attack. Nor is it under dispute that Elor Azaria shot Sharif in the head after arriving upon the scene of the attack. While Azaria’s defense attorney did take a stab (forgive me) at arguing that the bullet to the head was not the cause of Sharif’s death, this clashes with both the autopsy evidence and Azaria’s testimony that Sharif was moving in a threatening manner, which is why Azaria pulled the trigger.
Those who have deemed Azaria to be a hero are arguing that soldiers should be allowed to make decisions in the “heat of battle” rather than risking their lives. Had Sharif been shot in the head during the course of attacking soldiers, that would have been an unfortunate consequence of trying to attack another (better armed) human being. Once a suspect is subdued, soldiers have a duty to try to protect his life as well as their own. The rules of combat have been established with this in mind. Not following these rules is not befitting of a soldier, and supporting those actions is not befitting of a citizen of a democracy.
A similar argument has been used to support the shooting of Black men who have come into contact with the police in the United States. Some of these men were clearly engaged in criminal activity. With others, it was reasonable for the police to have suspicions. And in a few cases, the interaction was the result of a system that views Black men disproportionately under a lens of wrongdoing without a actual evidence.
Regardless of how these interactions start, they all-too-frequently end with a coroner report. While the police have a right to protect themselves from harm, they also have a responsibility to act in a way that minimizes dangers to civilians, even when those civilians have engaged in dangerous behavior, as long as the situation can be brought under control. Fear and hatred have on occasion led those in positions of authority to take actions that go beyond a reasonable use of force. This was true with Michael Brown in St. Louis, and this is true with Abdel Fattah Sharif in Israel. Thank goodness that in this case the system decided not to support this behavior.
I identify as center-right. I voted Kulanu, or as I like to put it… I wanted Bibi as Prime Minister, but I still wanted my friends to like me. I support the IDF, and I expect my children will serve or do sherut leumi, depending upon their desires and skills. I also support law and order, and killing a human being when you don’t have to crosses a line of civilized behavior. At every step, If we are engaging in an activity that is likely to result in death, we should be asking ourselves whether there is any other way.
People who would support killing a Palestinian terrorist who is no longer a threat scare me. Because they remind me that there are still people who would treat me and my children the same way. I applaud the decision of the court, and I hope that our soldiers continue to follow the guidelines established by the IDF when managing threats. The cost to our humanity is too great to do otherwise.