I BELIEVE I was the first to recommend that the soldier Elor Azaria, the killer of Hebron, be granted a pardon.
But this recommendation was conditional on several requirements: first, that the soldier openly and unconditionally confess his crime, that he apologize and that he be sentenced to many years in prison.
Without these conditions, any request for a pardon by the soldier would mean an approval of his act and an invitation for more war crimes.
Sergeant Azaria, a medic in a combat unit, appeared on the scene after an incident in the center of the Jewish enclave in the ancient town of Hebron. Two young Palestinians had attacked an army control point with knives and been shot. We don't know how the first one died, but the second was filmed by a camera provided to the locals by the wonderful Israeli anti-occupation organization B'Tselem.
The camera shows the assailant lying on the ground, heavily wounded, motionless and bleeding. Then, some 12 minutes later, Azaria, who had not been present, appears on the screen. He stands less than a meter from the wounded Arab and shoots him point-blank in the head, killing him outright.
The photographic evidence, made public at once on Israeli TV (a fact not to be forgotten), left the army no choice. Killing a helpless enemy is a crime in any civilized military. Azaria was accused of manslaughter -- not murder.
All over the right wing, he at once became a national hero. Politicians, including Binyamin Netanyahu and the present Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, hastened to adopt him.
Azaria was found guilty. In a sharply worded judgment, the military court stated that his testimony consisted of sheer lies.
The judgment aroused a storm of protest all over the right wing. The court was cursed and became the real accused. Facing this storm, the court buckled and this week sentenced Azaria to a ridiculous prison term of 18 months, the usual penalty for an Arab juvenile stone-thrower who has not hit anybody.
Azaria has not apologized. Far from it.
Instead, he, his family and his admirers stood up in the courtroom and broke into the national anthem.
THIS COURTROOM scene became the picture of the day. It was clearly a demonstration against the military court, against the high command of the Israeli army and against the entire democratic structure of the state.
But for me it was much, much more.
It was the Declaration of Independence of another Israeli people. It was the breaking up of Israeli society into two parts, the tensions between which have been growing more acute from year to year.
The two parts have less and less in common. They have entirely different attitudes toward the state, its moral foundations, its ideology, its structure. But until now, it was accepted that at least one almost sacred institution stood above the fray, beyond any controversy: the Israeli army.
The Azaria affair demonstrates that this last bond of unity has now been broken.
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