OPINION: A Pardon for Elor Azaria

Elior Azaria (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The argument is over.

The question of whether or not IDF soldier Elor Azaria should have been brought to trial in the first place is now behind us. The question of whether it might not have been wiser to negotiate a plea bargain with him, as has often been done in similar cases, is now also irrelevant.

The question now is what to do from here on, and in particular, what can be done to calm the anger over the conviction from spilling over into the society and the IDF.

The only solution at present is to grant the soldier a pardon. He and his family have already paid the price. They have suffered emotional and physical harm. The soldier himself, who had served with distinction until that incident, has suffered enough.

The soldier who shot and killed the terrorist has been found guilty. And now he deserves pardon. Just like those who were incriminated in the 300 Bus incident of 1984, in which Shin Bet members executed terrorist hijackers.

It is clear from the evidence that Azaria acted under pressure, influenced by the environment in which he lives. Had he not been afraid of what the terrorist might yet have done, he would not have acted as he did.

The court decided what it decided; but out in the field, the reality is different. An 18-year-old boy who is thrown into the landscape of terror is liable to err. He is liable to fail to conduct himself in accordance with protocol. He acted in accordance with his fears, even if the court determined differently.

With all the will in the world to accept the ruling, it will be very difficult for Israelis to accept this draconian conviction from military judges who have never themselves been in the danger zone where life-and-death decisions have to be made in seconds and fractions of seconds, who have never confronted a terrorist at the scene.

Regarding the sentencing of the soldier, his good conduct until this incident should be taken into consideration, to weigh all the mitigating factors — and release him. He should be allowed to go home. He has completed his military service.

In the wake of the trial, many Israeli soldiers are concerned that they too will be brought up on charges while taking necessary action against terrorists. That is no way to run the campaign against the fierce terrorism that sweeps the country.

The court has harmed the entire army, and especially the senior officers. The authority of commanders of combat units has been undermined. Clearly, the protocols governing opening fire in situations like this have to be reviewed and the soldiers instructed accordingly.

Most of all, the IDF must restore the confidence of every soldier who finds himself in such situations — that even if he should make the wrong choice at a critical moment, the army will not abandon him. Every soldier who faces an enemy force or a terrorist will perform his duty much more effectively if he knows that the army will stand behind him.

The defense establishment in the case of Elor Azaria brought in a battery of prosecutors of the highest quality against a soldier who had to find the best lawyers he could, but who were not on the same level as the IDF’s. It should not have happened.

The IDF did well in its moderate statement publicized shortly after the court’s decision: “The IDF respects the decision of the court, and will study it and its implications thoroughly. During the entire legal process, the IDF has maintained a strict separation between the command structure and the judicial system. The legal system will continue to operate in pursuit of the truth, in an independent and professional manner in all cases of alleged wrongdoing.

“Sgt. Elor Azaria’s commanding officers will offer all the support and assistance they can to the soldier and his family in the coming days.

“The IDF will continue to employ all necessary force, consistent with the moral values of the IDF, and will provide backing for its soldiers, for the security of Israel’s citizens.”

We are not persuaded that Elor Azaria acted out of hatred or revenge, even though that was the conclusion of the court. He believed that what he did was necessary. Therefore, he deserves to be pardoned. And we deserve that this trial should be brought to an end, and erased from memory.

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