Avi Shamir

There is No Just Response to the Hebron Shooting

I have played out this scene in my mind and I can’t say how I would have acted if it was me there, within range of a wounded terrorist whose spasms and the very breath of life left in him might lead me to do something reckless which would in effect ruin my life in exchange for whatever is left of his.

Prior to the shooting last March in the Tel Rumeida section of Hebron, IDF medic Elor Azaria had never shot and killed an enemy. There is no way to prepare for that, no matter how many times you go to the shooting range or listen to your superiors explain the “rules of engagement.” Especially when the scene of the shooting happens to be a hotbed of terrorist activity on an operationally dirty battlefield in an urban warfare setting.

On a conventional battlefield with tanks, infantry, bullets whizzing by your ear, shrapnel flying and shells exploding, one wouldn’t think twice about killing a wounded enemy soldier who may still be packing a pistol or a grenade. But that scene resembles something out of a black and white movie, and the IDF hasn’t fought in a conventional war lately.

Which brings us back to Tel Rumeida, that hotspot of historic Hebron where everything we do is grounds for international scrutiny…Excuse me while I watch the video again… Sorry, but no matter how many times I see this B’tzelem presentation it still escapes me why soldiers on the scene are not pointing a gun at the wounded terrorist on the ground to make sure his next spasm or twitch doesn’t turn into a surprise attack.

Maybe that’s what confused Elor Azaria. Maybe when an officer on the scene said that the terrorist had been neutralized he should have trusted him. Or maybe he is just an impulsive kid who in the heat of the moment decided to put a terrorist out of his misery.

One thing’s for sure: There is no just response to this rash act, and it is unclear if anyone’s version of “justice” would even serve a higher purpose. The Palestinian street would rejoice at the sight of Azaria’s public hanging, and nothing less.The Israeli street would celebrate if it could pin a medal on Azaria’s chest and carry him home on its shoulders to his family. The IDF, now in an unfamiliar role without public support, seems more concerned with justifying itself. And the world media, well, what kind of justice do they expect if they can’t even put the words “Palestinian” and “terrorist” together?

So I won’t praise or condemn Azaria for the life he took or make a judgment call on his guilt or innocence. The IDF already did that yesterday: Guilty as charged and guilty as hell. The Israeli mainstream, meantime, is calling for amnesty. As for me, I wouldn’t mind if the IDF gives him a very stiff sentence and President Ruby Rivlin pardons him the next day. It would make everyone look bad, and that is just what everyone involved in this sorry affair deserves. From the high and mighty politicians to the man in the street, those who decided Azaria’s guilt or innocence before they even understood what happened. From the IDF High Command and field level command to battle untested soldiers like Azaria, who may need more instruction on the “rules of engagement,” just so there are no more misunderstandings.

Throughout this nerve-wracking episode many Israelis have said that if “the soldier” gets convicted, no one would be motivated to serve in IDF combat units. Well begging their pardon, I think we can all use a little less motivation. Specifically, less incentive to serve in places we don’t belong and fight for lost causes with our hands tied behind our backs.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.