A bad verdict in Israel

An Israeli Defense Forces military court has convicted a young Israeli soldier of voluntary manslaughter after shooting dead a subdued terrorist, captured in the act of trying to kill Israelis.  The Palestinian was caught taking part in a string of knife attacks that terrorized the country.  The soldier said he feared a bomb belt and believed that his life was still in danger.  However, the court ruled that it was vengeance and said the "legitimacy" of the Israeli military was at stake.  In a surprisingly even-handed report, CNN said the verdict had triggered protests in Israel and sharply divided society.  According to Reuters and RT News:

Chief Judge Maya Heller said that Azaria "took upon himself to be both judge and executioner," Reuters reported.

"One cannot use this type of force, even if we're talking about an enemy's life," the court said.

Sounds like a fine nod to civilized society out there, a splendid adherence to the rule of law, a continuation of the broad institutionality that sets Israel apart from its neighbors.  Eveerything copacetic, right?  The strong reaction against this in Israel suggests no.

For one thing, the claim of needing legitimacy seems to be a polite fiction.  Legitimate to whom?  Whom does Israel need to appear legitimate to?  The Palestinians are never going to accept legitimacy, especially not from this verdict, and right now they haven't.  Two, the incident is being covered with prurient interest by the European press, a place well known for seeking to excuse Palestinian terror and expose Israel as "the real Nazis" or whatever.  Anything to assuage their own historic guilt by saying "everybody does it."  Their heavy coverage isn't to change any minds about Israel and ought to be an indicator of something just a little malevolent.

The other problem is that treating this incident as a terrorist act and the soldier's hair-trigger reaction as a routine civilian murder not at all different from any other pretty well denies that the soldier, Elor Azaria, was in a wartime situation and under considerable stress.  As someone right there in the heat of the action, he was less likely to have all the information presented on the news report and more likely to have just seen something dangerous.  He was, after all, a 19-year-old draftee at the time.

A verdict like this seems to deny that there is a war.  It merely legitimizes a "narrative" that Palestinians just have a few bad apples like anyone else and therefore are entitled to basic civilian protections, and life will go on there as normal once this "justice" is achieved.  What is submersed is that Israel is at war for survival from an implacable enemy that won't stop, and bad things happen during war.

How long has this terrorism been going on in Israel?  Is treating a shooting like this as a police matter going to stop it?  It already hasn't.  Showing the civilian society rule of law niceties to terrorists seems only to trigger more terrorism.

Errors and rough actions happen in wartime.  That is the reality.  The enemy doesn't respond to Marquess of Queensberry rules.  With that the case, the kid should be pardoned, not punished.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seemed to recognize the problematic verdict and reportedly favors giving the kid the benefit of the doubt.  If he can do something, it will be a greater justice.  Something isn't working about this current response.

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