6 January 2017

Only in Israel’s ‘democracy’ could the Prime Minister urge a pardon for a cold-blooded racist murderer

Elor Azaria, Israel’s killer hero is unlikely to do any gaol time

Imagine, if you will, a Palestinian who had shot in the head, cold bloodedly, a severely wounded Israeli lying prostrate on the ground.  Imagine Benjamin Netanyahu urging clemency.  This is a fantasy scenario.  Palestinians guilty of resistance, who kill Israeli combat soldiers, which they are entitled to do under international law, because a people living under occupation is entitled to resist the occupiers, would receive life sentences of 30 years and more. 

Only in the past month Balad member of the Knesset Basel Ghattas of Balad was arrested on suspicion of passing phones and intelligence information to Walid Daka, one of two prisoners whom Ghattas allegedly met with during a visit to Ketziot prison.  In most civilised countries, prisoners have access to mobile phones.  As to 'intelligence information' the mind boggles.

Walid Daka has not been the recipient of a pardon.  On the contrary he is serving a 37-year sentence for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old soldier Moshe Tamam.  Daka is not a hero in Israel because, of course, he is not Jewish.  On the contrary he was guilty of killing a soldier in the Jewish state’s army.  He should count himself lucky to be alive. 

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said in a statement that the verdict must be respected. He added, however, that “it cannot be ignored that Azaria was, to some degree, a victim of the situation, but the ruling strengthens the IDF, since you cannot ignore the circumstances of the incident, which reflect an impossible reality in a field that is complicated, which IDF soldiers deal with daily, hourly.”

Quite how a cold-blooded killer is 'a victim of the situation' defies explanation.  Perhaps the Yorkshire Ripper was also a 'victim of the situation'.  Totally absurd legitimation of Azaria.
Israeli Labour's former leader calls for a pardon for Elor Azaria
However The Times of Israel reported that, 

In a surprise development, coalition ministers were joined in their call for a pardon by Zionist Union’s Shelly Yachimovich, former head of the Labour Party.

Yachimovich praised the court for burnishing the ethical standard expected of IDF soldiers, but said the entire trial was a symptom of the deep division within Israeli society, “and Azaria’s shoulders are not broad enough to bear the weight of that rift. Therefore,” she tweeted, “at the conclusion of the trial and after the sentencing, we must carefully consider the possibility of pardoning him.”

Another demonstration of how the Israeli Labour Party is not an opposition but a partner in the crimes committed against the Palestinians.

Can you imagine Herzog or Netanyahu pointing out the circumstances that led a Palestinian to shoot dead an IDF soldier who was harassing his family or raiding a house?  Unimaginable.  Palestinians in such a situation have their ‘blood on their hands’.  The only debate in Israel is whether to execute Palestinians who kill soldiers after a trial or whether to simply dispense with a trial, as Elor Azaria did.  That is why Azaria is a hero.  What he did was nothing exceptional.

It should be pointed out that Azaria is a supporter of the late Jewish Nazi politician and ex-Knesset member Rabbi Meir Kahane.  He is a thorough going racist.

Joint (Arab) List chair MK Ayman Odeh charged that 

“Netanyahu chose to stand together with the supporters of the soldier and their joyous calls of death to the Arabs, and so made it clear the he is responsible for the moral decline that these groups are leading in Israeli society,”  “Azaria is guilty,” he added, “but it is the government that is responsible, which for 50 years has been sending young men and women to become thugs whose task is to uphold military rule over a population deprived of rights.”

Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh addresses a question to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the assembly hall of the parliament, July 18, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
In a statement, Odeh implied that hundreds of extrajudicial killings were being carried out by the IDF in the West Bank.

“The difference between this incident and hundreds of others is the presence of the B’Tselem camera that recorded the cruel reality of the occupation and revealed the inflammatory pus that the occupation creates in the heart of Israeli society,” he said.
The banner that sums up the campaign to pardon Elor Azaria
Two weeks ago I criticised an article by Yakov Hirsch Azaria’s conviction will end a totalitarian ideology for wishful thinking and back in April in THIS IS Israel – Call to Kill All Arabs at Tel Aviv Rally in Support for Killer Soldier I described a demonstration called in support of Azaria in Tel Aviv where a banner ‘Kill them all’ (i.e. kill all Arabs) was displayed at a demonstration  called in solidarity with Azaria.

But above all else, what this case shows above anything else is the moral and political degeneration of the Israeli settler state.  Is there another country on this planet where a cold-blooded racist killer could be named man of the year by the main TV Channel 10 and by Makor Rishon, a publication owned by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson?

Tony Greenstein

Palestinians hold posters showing Israeli army medic Elor Azarya, at a protest in Hebron on 4 January, the day Azarya was convicted of manslaughter for killing injured Palestinian Abdul Fattah al-Sharif in March 2016. Wisam Hashlamoun APA images
An Israeli military court has convicted Elor Azarya, the 20-year-old army medic who was caught on video executing an injured Palestinian man lying in the street last year, for manslaughter.

During the trial, Azarya’s lawyers argued that the soldier had fired at Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron because he felt he was in danger.
But in their ruling on Wednesday, the judges found “beyond all reasonable doubt” that Azarya had acted in revenge.

Within hours, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Azarya, who is seen as a national hero by many in Israel, to be pardoned.

Al-Sharif was shot dead along with Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, both 21 years old, on 24 March last year. Israel alleges that they stabbed a soldier near the Tel Rumeida settlement in Hebron.

The killing of al-Qasrawi was not caught on video.
The verdict came shortly after Human Rights Watch said that senior Israeli officials have been 

“encouraging Israeli soldiers and police to kill Palestinians they suspect of attacking Israelis even when they are no longer a threat.”

“Perversion of justice”

Following the verdict, Azarya’s supporters staged protests, blocking traffic, clashing with police and shouting racist abuse at Palestinian workers.
Some of the protesters carried banners in support of US President-elect Donald Trump:

Lawmakers from Israel’s far-right and centrist political parties are calling for Azarya to be pardoned, a power that lies with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Backing the calls, Netanyahu said, “This is a difficult and painful day for all of us – and first and foremost for Elor and his family, for [Israeli army] soldiers, for many soldiers and for the parents of our soldiers, and me among them.”

In Hebron, the family of al-Sharif expressed dissatisfaction that Azarya was only charged with manslaughter.

Relatives told Palestinians gathered at a vigil in Hebron on Wednesday that they would bring Israel to the International Criminal Court for what they see as cold-blooded murder.

“The fact that the soldier is convicted of manslaughter isn’t such an important development from our standpoint,” Fathi al-Sharif, an uncle of the slain man, told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz. “From the beginning, we stated that he had committed murder and needed to be convicted of murder. The fact that they changed the count of the indictment to manslaughter from our standpoint is a perversion of justice.”

Videotaped killing

Emad Abu Shamsiyya, the Palestinian field researcher with the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem who filmed the killing, has received hundreds of death threats.

He said members of Azarya’s family broke into his home and asked him to change his testimony to the court.

On the day of the shooting, Azarya was called onto the scene after al-Sharif and al-Qasrawi were shot and incapacitated, to give the moderately injured soldier medical assistance.

Video footage released by B’Tselem shows al-Sharif lying on the ground, slightly moving his head, while Israeli soldiers and medics work around him and load the injured soldier onto an ambulance.
The video shows no attempt to provide medical treatment to al-Sharif.

Settlers on the scene are heard shouting, “the terrorist is still alive,” and the “the dog is still alive.”
Azarya then aims his weapon, takes a few steps towards al-Sharif, and shoots him in the head. A stream of blood pours from the man’s head.

After the video was released, some Israeli politicians and military leaders condemned the shooting and the military announced it would charge the shooter with murder. But almost immediately Israeli leaders began to backtrack as they saw the swelling of popular support for Azarya.

Azarya was eventually indicted on the lesser manslaughter charge.

At the trial, Azarya claimed he had shot the incapacitated al-Sharif out of fear for his safety.
But Azarya’s company commander testified that al-Sharif posed no danger.

The judges’ verdict states that the reason Azarya shot al-Sharif “was not rooted in a sense of danger, but rather in the explanation he provided immediately upon completion of the shooting to the effect that ‘the terrorist deserved to die’ because he had stabbed a friend of his prior to that.”

Two months after the shooting, more video emerged suggesting the army tampered with evidence. The footage shows a person kicking a knife closer to the body of the slain man.

Shoot to kill policy

Azarya’s indictment is exceptional: scores of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces over the last year, many in apparent extrajudicial executions, with impunity for their killers.

Last September, Amnesty International detailed 20 cases of killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces. In 15 of those cases, Amnesty said, “Palestinians were deliberately shot dead, despite posing no imminent threat to life, in what appear to be extrajudicial executions.”

Also in September, Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq found that “Since 1987, no Israeli soldier or commander has been convicted of willfully causing the death of a Palestinian in the [occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip].”

According to Haaretz, since 2000, in only a handful of cases were soldiers prosecuted for manslaughter for the killing of Palestinians. Of those, only one soldier was convicted. He received an eight-year sentence, though this was later reduced.

Human rights defenders are stressing that the killing of al-Sharif highlights a much broader problem.

“It’s not just about potentially rogue soldiers, but also about senior Israeli officials who publicly tell security forces to unlawfully shoot to kill,” Sari Bashi, Israel advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said.

Human Rights Watch says that since October 2015, when an escalation in confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli occupation forces began, it has documented numerous statements “by senior Israeli politicians, including the police minister and defense minister, calling on police and soldiers to shoot to kill suspected attackers, irrespective of whether lethal force is actually strictly necessary to protect life.”

Indeed, one witness called by Azarya’s defense, a settler security chief, told the court that shooting at the heads of incapacitated alleged Palestinian attackers is a common practice by Israeli occupation forces.

In October, Azarya was named man of the year by Israel’s Channel 10 and by Makor Rishon, a publication owned by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

He is expected to be sentenced in coming weeks.

See also Jonathan Cook's Elor Azaria case: ‘No hope of equality before the law’ 

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