President of the Military Court, Colonel Maya Heller, on Sunday decided to approve the defense request in Sgt. Elor Azaria’s trial, and recuse one of the judges on the panel, Israeli media reported. The defense argued that the judge is on friendly terms with Hebron Brigade commander, Colonel Yariv Ben Ezra. The defense attorneys said they did not doubt the military judge’s honesty, but wanted to avoid a conflict of interest nevertheless. They won the round and will start the proceedings with a point advantage.
The trial of IDF medic Sgt. Elor Azaria, who shot dead a stabbing terrorist who was already on the ground, is scheduled to start on Monday in a military court in Jaffa with much less media attention than the case received back in March, when the military prosecutor was still hell-bent on charging Azaria with murder. Many Israelis were irate at the sheer injustice of the idea and the widespread protests convinced Prime Minister Netanyahu that his defense minister was pushing him off a cliff with his newly found, left-leaning political posturing. The case, which would have ended with a disciplinary hearing had an Arab B’Tselem cameraman not immortalized the episode, was downgraded last month to manslaughter and misconduct, as well as defying the rules of engagement without operational justification. Netanyahu, who met with Azaria’s father to reassure him his son is in good hands, has meanwhile fired Moshe Ya’alon, his pesky defense minister, reducing further the chances for collateral damage to Netanyahu from the trial come the next elections.
This is a do or die case for the military prosecution, which has taken its share of lumps so far. Its requests to remand Azaria to prison until the end of his trial was rejected, and he is free to walk around his unit’s base, just not go out. Except that the prosecution also lost its demand that he not be allowed to join his family seder at home. He did, with the court’s blessing. And so, feeling understandably wobbly on its feet, the military prosecution decided to enlist attorney Nadav Weisman, a renowned litigator and senior partner in the biggest law firm in Israel, Meitar Liquornik Geva Leshem Tal.
Making star attorney Weisman the litigator means the prosecution is going for broke. MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) in early May demanded clarifications from IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot about the army conscripting a ringer for this match, among other things — how much was this costing the IDF?
From its show of zeal, it’s obvious the prosecution does not plan to offer Azaria a plea bargain, which should have been the easiest and least painful solution to everyone involved. A plea would have meant that the case would eventually disappear from memory, making room for newer attacks on Israel and the IDF. Dragging the case in court will have the opposite effect, keeping the gory details in the news: was the terrorist on the ground moving? Was Azaria justified? Why didn’t he call out an alert? It will also, inevitably, reveal that the majority of Israelis believe that a terrorist who picks up a knife and goes about stabbing Israelis should be certain of being killed. It’s like the death penalty, but cheaper and faster. It’s a perfectly reasonable sentiment, but do we want it debated on the BBC every night? Hardly. Now, however, thanks to a few wounded prosecutors’ egos, the tired topic of “it all started when Israel retaliated” will be king once more on the world’s stages.
It is funny, though, one must admit, to prosecute a soldier for killing a terrorist. Richard Goldstone, you have taught us so much…