If what Azaria wants, what his parents want, what his girlfriend wants, is to turn over a new leaf in his life, at home, as a discharged soldier, these are his enemies.
The military court at the Kirya Base in Tel Aviv was divided in two while the verdict was handed down: On the left side sat the members of the family and its associates; on the right side sat the journalists. The courtroom has no loudspeakers and no windows. Col. Maya Heller, who led the panel of judges, read the text for two and a half hours, quietly. It was hard to hear; it was hard to breathe. Occasionally, sounds from the protest outside, the honking of cars stuck at the Shalom Junction and sirens infiltrated the room.
The journalists typed lines from the text on their cellphones, each journalist and his or her channel or website. The family members sat quietly, waiting tensely for the bottom line. When that line arrived – manslaughter conviction in addition to inappropriate conduct – one of the young members of the family stood up, and uttered angrily while making her way towards the door, “disgusting leftists.” The judges pretended not to hear. It’s possible that they really didn’t hear.
The parents waited patiently for the judges to leave. “A fixed trial,” the mother screamed. She shouted and cried, and for a moment it seemed she was about to faint. The most relaxed person on the left side of the room was Elor Azaria. His girlfriend, who sat on his right, whispered in his ear occasionally; he listened with interest. No one in the room smiled – neither the judges nor the soldiers nor the family members nor the journalists. Azaria was the only one who smiled.
The verdict is 124 pages long and includes 288 clauses. The incident it describes is very simple. The elaboration is required not because of the nature of the event but because of the extent of the noise around it. The judges did a thorough and comprehensive job. The chance that their ruling will be refuted in the appeal is almost nonexistent.
What should have happened Wednesday, after the verdict was handed down, was an expedited process. Within a week, the court would have convened to discuss the argumentation of punishment. A week later, the sentence would have been delivered, and immediately afterwards Azaria would have submitted a request to Central Command chief Roni Numa to mitigate his sentence. The command chief is authorized to do so. There are plenty of arguments – starting from his parents’ health, through his mental distress and his past as an outstanding soldier, to the feeling in the IDF that the message has been conveyed and understood and that it’s time to move on. Since Azaria has been held in open detention for nearly a year now, he could have theoretically been home within a month.
But that did not happen. The first to jump were the politicians. Ministers Regev and Bennett demanded that the president pardon Azaria immediately. Prime Minister Netanyahu couldn’t leave Bennett on his own. Ahead of the evening news edition, he announced that he was also in favor of a presidential amnesty.
The president has certain authorities when it comes to pardoning soldiers: He often signs, at the recommendation of the Military Advocate General, requests to erase soldiers’ criminal records. But the natural, right process in Azaria’s case should take a different course: After the sentence, he should turn to the command chief and ask for mitigation.
I don’t know what the command chief and the chief of staff will do if and when they receive such a request. I assume they will seriously consider it. Now that the judges have spoken, unanimously and unequivocally, the question of how long Azaria will spend in prison is no longer important. They would surely prefer to end this affair within the IDF rather than leave it to politicians. The chief of staff is very consistent on this matter.
That is likely what Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman wants too: A mitigation course within the IDF. That is the only way for him to receive credit. His anger at Netanyahu, Regev and Bennett is real. He began the Azaria affair with an outrageous visit to the court. Now he is showing responsibility.
But the people on the abovementioned list are not anxious to see Azaria go home. Netanyahu, Regev and Bennett gain points when the play the “everyone’s child” game or the game of the fighter caught in distress in the middle of a battle. There was neither a child nor a battel in this affair, but who cares about the details?
The members of the gangs that rioted on Wednesday hate the state and seek to destroy it. They have a different state in mind. And the lawyers are incapable of admitting their defeat. The judges harshly reprimanded their defense line and skills on Wednesday. As far as they are concerned, the trial will now go to an appeal, and in the meantime, Azaria will remain in detention.
As far as they are concerned, it could last forever.