A show trial and a mockery of justice is the best that Palestinians can expect

Supporters of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who was on trail for shooting a wounded Palestinian in his head, on January 4 2017 [Daniel Bar On/ Anadolu Agency]

Supporters of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who was on trail for shooting a wounded Palestinian in his head, on January 4 2017

By Motasem A Dalloul

The Israeli military court in Jaffa found Sergeant Elor Azaria, 19, guilty of manslaughter for shooting dead a motionless and wounded Palestinian in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron last year. Azaria will be sentenced in mid-January and is facing a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Many Palestinians, including officials and relatives of the Palestinian who was killed by Azaria, Abdul Fattah Al-Sharif, applauded the military court’s judgement, because this is not a normal case of an Israeli who committed a crime against a Palestinian being brought to justice. However, it seems that their applause may have been premature, for it already looks as if Azaria will not spend much time behind bars, even if he is sentenced to a prison term later this month. Analysts reported by the Times of Israel believe that he is likely to get much less than the maximum 20-year sentence

Meanwhile, the Israeli public have started to put pressure on the government, describing Azaria as a hero. Ever since his arrest, there have been public demonstrations calling for his release.

On the same day that he was found guilty, Israel’s Channel 2 TV reported that an opinion poll showed that 51 per cent of Israelis oppose the verdict and 67 per cent support calls for “clemency” for the sergeant. A significant number are calling for a pardon for their “hero”.

Moments after the verdict was announced, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that Azaria must be pardoned “immediately”. The extreme right-winger urged Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman to ensure that he does not spend a single day in prison. Bennett’s call for a pardon was echoed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri: “The court has done its job,” he tweeted. “I respect its verdict. But now the correct thing to do is pardon him. The process of the trial and the suffering of the soldier and his family justify a pardon.”

In an emotional statement on the case, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Azaria and other Israeli soldiers “our sons and daughters.” He concluded a brief comment by saying that he would support a pardon for Elor Azaria. Netanyahu is just one of a long list of Israeli officials, including the president, who have expressed their sadness over the conviction of the soldier and called for a pardon.

If Azaria is not pardoned as expected, he will still probably get a comparatively light sentence. Even right-wing hawks who are on record as saying that he must be held accountable for his “mistake” have also expressed their sadness at the verdict, showing support for the soldier and his family.

Azaria “simply took the law into his own hands” and “opened fire without justification, said former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Nevertheless, post-verdict he said, “This is a hard day for us all; for the Azaria family, for the citizens of Israel and for me.”

Despite the “difficult verdict,” said Lieberman — arguably the most extreme minister of them all — “the law must be respected.”

Given all that has been said, observers do not expect Azaria to spend much time — if any at all — in prison for his crime. We should not be too surprised, for there are precedents for such leniency.

In 1956, Israeli soldiers slaughtered 49 Palestinians in the village of Qafr Qasim, including 23 children and a pregnant woman. Eight soldiers, including two officers, were found guilty by an Israeli court. Major Shmuel Malinki and Lieutenant Gabriel Dahan were sentenced to 17 and 15 years respectively. Less than three years later, all of the soldiers, including Malinki and Dahan, were pardoned, released and even promoted. One of the soldiers involved in the massacre was found guilty only of extending the curfew without authority. He was released after paying a fine of one Israeli cent.

For those, who are waiting for justice from an Israeli court against an Israeli soldier, have to look at the net results of the Qafr Qasim trial and remember that this is a long-standing precedent for the legal system. The calls for a pardon are setting the scene for the court to make a show of being lenient and compassionate towards a young soldier. Little or no compassion will be shown to the family of Abdul Fattah Al-Sharif who, it must not be forgotten, was not even armed when he was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. In all of this, the judiciary will demonstrate that a show trial is all that Palestinians can expect, making a mockery of so-called Israeli justice.

(Source / 06.01.2017)


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