Elor Azaria is no hero, and he knows it
Op-ed: The soldier made a mistake when he shot the terrorist in Hebron without any justification, and kept making mistakes when he let politicians exploit and turn him into a hero. Having learned enough about battle heritage, he knew there was no heroism in shooting a dying terrorist.
On March 24, 2016, B’Tselem released a video of an anonymous soldier from the Kfir Brigade shooting a terrorist who deserved to die in Hebron. Azaria fired his weapon 11 minutes after the terrorist had been neutralized. He approached the terrorist, removed his helmet and fired at close range without warning anyone to stay away from the person he claimed had been carrying an explosive device.
Anyone watching the video with the slightest bit of combat experience knew exactly what had happened there. Others perhaps didn’t have the proper training, but most people understood. From this point on, each person chose his own political way. It wasn’t Azaria they saw before their eyes, but the political objectives.
That same day, I wrote about the attempts made by Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem to portray the entire IDF as an army of brutes. “Where mistakes are made, they are checked and investigated,” I wrote. Little did I know. A year and a half later, the conclusion from the video is the same conclusion reached by the court, but it was a winding and dangerous road. The cultural decline spread through Israeli society. Rightists joined the Leftists in claiming the occupation corrupts, that it’s not the soldier’s fault.
Activists of the right-wing Lehava organization, who haven’t served a single day in the army, were explaining that Azaria was a hero. Even the last sacred cow in Israeli society—the IDF—was slaughtered in public. The final touch was provided by small politicians who identified an opportunity and stripped away every last ounce of stateliness they had. The tail wagged the dog.
The initial response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon was in line with the acceptable norm in the State of Israel when it comes to unusual events. The big change occurred in the days that followed. In the name of public opinion polls, an alternative truth was born, alternative values and twisted explanations, at the end of which everything got mixed up. There is no right and wrong.
The moral question about shooting a terrorist is the wrong question. In certain situations, like a targeted killing for example, there is permission and authority to assassinate the enemy even when he lacks any weapon or intention. That’s what an army does, and I’m proud to have been part of such efforts.
The important question is whether a strong, organized army could turn into phalanges, into gangs in which every person does whatever he feels like, whenever he feels like doing it and however he feels like doing it. That’s, unfortunately, what Elor Azaria looked like in the video: Firing without a helmet when he shouldn’t have, making up a threat about an explosive device when it's clear in the video it didn’t even cross his mind. So he turned into a tool in the hands of small politicians against Israeli stateliness.
I felt sorry for Azaria from the very first moment. He made a mistake at the scene when he fired without justification, and he kept making mistakes when he let politicians exploit him. Sharon Gal, Avigdor Lieberman and Oren Hazan have never faced such a situation, never experienced such comradeship or made decisions at the drop of a dime. He made a mistake when he let them turn him into a hero. After all, he had learned enough about battle heritage and he knew there was no heroism in shooting a dying terrorist. Brigadier-General (res.) Avigdor Kahalani is a hero, fallen soldier Roi Klein is a hero. He is no hero, and he knew that very well. The army made mistakes on the way too, but that doesn’t change what happened there, what’s right and what isn’t.
The Azaria affair has come to an end. I hope in a few months he’ll return home after being pardoned and forget about all the imaginary friends who adopted him so they could be on television for a minute. Now, on the eve of Tisha B’Av, Israeli stateliness is just beginning to patch things up.