In a saner country, the trial of a soldier who’s shot a neutralized terrorist would not, I think, have reverberated with the public as much as it has here in Israel. The question of whether the shooting was justified or not, whether it was carried out of personal vengeance or operational demand — would not have carried much weight with most of the public. It would have, I think, been contained. An almost personal matter. Definitely an internal military thing. It certainly would not have caused public demonstrations or death threats to the Chief of Staff. And yet, here we are. An entire country, transfixed by a court martial, split down the middle.
And the reason for that is not Azaria himself, nor is it the specifics of the event he took part in.
It is because Azaria’s crime — his unlawful execution of a neutralized man — is merely a symptom, a manifestation, an extension of a larger crime every Israeli citizen is a partner in.
Because when you come to examine the legitimacy of Azaria’s actions, it is impossible to isolate them from the occupation. The presence of Azaria’s unit in Hebron is illegitimate, his affiliation with extremist right-wing proto-fascist Jewish organizations, the civilian settlers present at the scene shortly after the shooting, the public discourse dehumanizing Palestinians — all are illegitimate manifestations of the occupation. And the Israeli public, either by compliance or by active support, is the party responsible for the occupation.
And so, people rushing to defend Azaria are doing so because his conviction pulls on a thread that may unravel our dissociation with the travesty and tragedy of the Palestinian people. It’s impossible to say that only Azaria is at fault in this case. All of Israel is, and if Azaria is guilty then by extension, so are we.
And Azaria is guilty. This has been established today, beyond reproach.
Anyone rushing to defend his actions after the exhaustive investigation and trial which have finally ended today does so not because of a passion for Truth and Justice, but because they can feel the cold, clammy hand of responsibility and guilt starting to close around their throat. Because if Azaria, an excelling combat soldier — one of Israel’s holiest icons — can be found guilty by the legal system, then one day, so can they.
Azaria’s sentence should be seen as a beacon of light for anyone willing to acknowledge the crimes carried out in our name in the Occupied Territories. It is a step in the right direction after a long journey in the wrong one. It’s a small chip off of an enormous wall, but it’s something, and I choose to see it as an indication the there is still place to hope that we will, someday, all acknowledge our wrongdoing and maybe even begin trying to correct it.