JERUSALEM — The fate of just one low-ranking Israeli soldier was hanging in the balance. But for many Israelis, the guilty verdict announced on Wednesday was a critical turn in the battle for the character of the state.
When the military judges convicted Sgt. Elor Azaria of manslaughter for shooting a Palestinian assailant in the head as he lay wounded on the ground, they were ruling not just on his conduct but also on the host of ethical and political issues it raised. Since the shooting in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron in March, the case has polarized Israelis and rocked the pedestal on which the military normally stands.
With the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank approaching, the highly charged trial had fueled a debate about military ethics and the place of the army in Israeli society. The verdict did little to heal the rifts the trial had exposed: Hours after it was rendered, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined a chorus of voices calling for the soldier to be pardoned.
“This is a difficult and painful day for us all,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a Facebook post supporting a pardon, which can be granted by Israel’s president or the army’s top officials. Referring to the Israel Defense Forces, he added, “The soldiers of the I.D.F. are our sons and daughters, and they need to remain above any dispute.”
Prof. David Enoch, an expert in the philosophy of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said he thought the manslaughter conviction was “justified” but added, “I’m not sure this verdict will be welcomed by many of the soldiers and much of the public.”
The military’s rules make clear that assailants must be quickly incapacitated, but that once the threat is neutralized, they should not be killed. Rights groups and other critics have accused Israeli soldiers and police officers of being too quick to pull the trigger, particularly in response to a recent spate of deadly stabbings, shootings and car attacks byPalestinians.Read More...
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