Personally, I believe that kids can’t be expected to grow up with morals or values different to those of the environment in which they mature. If a kid grows up watching his mother and father eating missionaries in the deepest Amazonian jungle, he’s going to be a cannibal. Similarly, it would have been exceptional for a kid who grew up with die-hard Nazi parents in the Germany of the Thirties, to have matured into anything but a Nazi himself. It’s a question of nature and nurture.
Elor Azaria, an Israeli army medic, was 19-years-old when he summarily executed Abd Fatah al-Sharif, a Palestinian from Hebron, in March last year. I don’t know anything about Azaria’s home life, but the public comments of his parents and family members since the execution leave little doubt that he didn’t grow up in a home in which the rights – or even the lives – of Palestinians were a major concern. Never mind a Palestinian who had apparently stabbed another Israeli soldier and was therefore a “terrorist,” a category of sub-human as deserving of grace as a cockroach.
I know a little more about the general environment in which Azaria developed, however, having lived in it myself and sent my children to the same sort of schools. Azaria was born into the occupation and the colonial, racist and intolerant society that is has engendered in Israel. For the six years preceding the execution, from the age of 13, he imbibed the poison of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel. He had no choice; it’s everywhere.
At a time when he was most vulnerable and most susceptible to outside influences, Azaria was bombarded by the propaganda of a regime that is inimical to anything even resembling justice and respect for human rights. He learned that Arabs are the implacable and eternal enemies of Israel; that they are little better than animals. He learned disdain for all criticism of Israel and its civilizing mission in the occupied territories.
He learned that concepts such as human rights, justice and freedom are the code words used by sissies, wusses and misguided liberals in their never-ending campaign to besmirch the good name of Israel and weaken it in preparation for destruction at the hands of its enemies
He learned that everything done by Israel in pacifying the Palestinians and securing its hold over the Greater Land of Israel is not only acceptable but blessed. And in the army’s Kfir battalion, a unit dedicated to the pacification and policing of the Palestinians in the territories, he learned that anything goes. Kfir is the settlers’ private security force, courtesy of the state. Loathing for and brutality against Arabs are the tools of its trade.
Those were the building blocks of Azaria’s character. They made him the person he was when, on March 24 last year, he fired a bullet at close range into the head of a severely wounded and totally unthreatening Abd Fatah al-Sharif. He was raised and conditioned to do it.
And let’s be candid. No-one actually believes that he was the first to execute a suspect or prisoner. Approximately 200 Palestinians have been killed since the wave of knifings began in October 2015, about 30 of them uninvolved in any attempted attack, by the army’s own account. It’s unlikely that we will ever know how many of those killings could have been avoided, but my guess is many.
Azaria’s only crime, in the current moral climate, is that he got caught. He did his Kfir duty in front of a video camera. And in so doing, he let the side down. Dirty work should not be done in public.
The military court that convicted Azaria of manslaughter on Wednesday is an anachronism; a feeble remnant of the law-abiding democracy that Israel still claims to be. It’s a dinosaur that will soon be extinct as a muscular, Putinesque authoritarianism takes over. Government ministers such as Miri Regev and Naftali Bennett criticized the verdict – and rightly so. It has no place in the new era they are creating.
The force is with them – and with the burgeoning army of land-stealing settlers and the cohorts of holy men who preach Jewish exceptionalism, disdain for women, contempt for gay people and hatred for the Palestinian Amalek. They are the future of Israel.
The court’s verdict was not, as some saw it, a victory for sanity and justice. It was a dying gasp; the desperate flailing of a swimmer in rough seas, before the tsunami hits. Sooner than we think, Azaria will be pontificating gravely as a right-wing member of the Knesset.