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The Azaria War Crime Splits Israel:
The Solution Is Ending the Occupation
By Uri Avnery
CCUN, February 27, 2017
|The wounded Palestinian
teenager who was killed by the war criminal Israeli soldier Elon
Azaria in 2016
The Great Rift
I BELIEVE I was the
first to recommend that the soldier Elor Azaria, the killer of Hebron, be
granted a pardon.
But this recommendation was conditional on
several requirements: first, that the soldier openly and unconditionally
confess his crime, that
he apologize and that he be sentenced to many years in prison.
Without these conditions, any request for a pardon by the soldier would
mean an approval of his act and an invitation for more
Sergeant Azaria, a medic in a combat unit, appeared on the scene after an
incident in the center of the Jewish enclave in the ancient town of
Hebron. Two young Palestinians had attacked an army control point with
knives and been shot. We don't know how the first one died, but the second
was filmed by a camera provided to the locals by the wonderful Israeli
anti-occupation organization B'Tselem.
The camera shows the
assailant lying on the ground, heavily wounded, motionless and bleeding.
Then, some 12 minutes later, Azaria, who had not been present, appears on
the screen. He stands less than a meter from the wounded Arab and shoots
him point-blank in the head, killing him outright.
photographic evidence, made public at once on Israeli TV (a fact not to be
forgotten), left the army no choice. Killing a helpless enemy is a crime
in any civilized military. Azaria was accused of manslaughter – not
All over the right wing, he at once became a national
hero. Politicians, including Binyamin Netanyahu and the present Minister
of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, hastened to adopt him.
found guilty. In a sharply worded judgment, the military court stated that
his testimony consisted of sheer lies.
The judgment aroused a
storm of protest all over the right wing. The court was cursed and became
the real accused. Facing this storm, the court buckled and this week
sentenced Azaria to a ridiculous prison term of 18 months, the usual
penalty for an Arab juvenile stone-thrower who has not hit anybody.
Azaria has not apologized. Far from it.
Instead, he, his family
and his admirers stood up in the courtroom and broke into the national
THIS COURTROOM scene became the picture of the day. It was
clearly a demonstration against the military court, against the high
command of the Israeli army and against the entire democratic structure of
But for me it was much, much more.
It was the
Declaration of Independence of another Israeli people. It was the breaking
up of Israeli society into two parts, the tensions between which have been
growing more acute from year to year.
The two parts have less and
less in common. They have entirely different attitudes toward the state,
its moral foundations, its ideology, its structure. But until now, it was
accepted that at least one almost sacred institution stood above the fray,
beyond any controversy: the Israeli army.
The Azaria affair
demonstrates that this last bond of unity has now been broken.
WHO ARE these camps? What is the most profound element of this division?
There is no way around it: it is the ethnic factor.
tries to evade this fact. Mountains of euphemism have been erected to hide
it. Everybody is fearful, even frightened, of the consequence of it.
Hypocrisy is an essential defense mechanism.
There are now two
Jewish-Israeli peoples. They dislike each other intensely.
called Ashkenazi, a
derivative of an old Hebrew term for Germany. It encompasses all Israelis
of European and American origin, who adhere or pretend to adhere to
The other is called Mizrahi
used to be called - erroneously - Sephardim ("Spaniards"), but only a
small fraction of them are actually the descendants of the Jews expelled
from Spain some 500 years ago. The great majority of these expellees chose
to go to Muslim countries, instead of Europe.
The Mizrahi community
encompasses all the Israelis whose families came from countries extending
from Morocco to Iran.
Historically, Jews were often mistreated in
Europe, and rarely so in Islamic countries. But Ashkenazim are proud of
their European heritage, while in fact growing more and more estranged
from it, while for the Mizrahim there is no greater insult than comparing
them to Arabs.
How did the rift start? The Zionist movement was
created mainly by Ashkenazim, who constituted the overwhelming majority of
the world's Jews before the Holocaust. Naturally, they were also the main
contributors to the new Zionist community in Palestine, though there were
also some outstanding Mizrahi figures.
The deep division started
right after the 1948 war. As I have often mentioned, I was one of the
first who saw it coming. As a squad-leader in the war, I commanded a group
of volunteers from Morocco and other Mediterranean countries (who, by the
way, saved my life when I was wounded). I witnessed the beginning of the
split and warned the country in a series of articles, dating from 1949.
Who was to blame? Both sides. But since the Ashkenazim controlled all
aspects of life, their share of the guilt is surely larger.
from two great but very different civilizations, it was perhaps inevitable
for the two communities to differ on many aspects of life. But at the time
everybody was befuddled by the Zionist world of myths, and nothing was
done to avoid the disaster.
Nowadays, the Mizrahim see themselves
as "the people", the real (Jewish) Israelis, despising the Ashkenazim as
the "elites". They also believe that they are the great majority.
This is quite wrong. It is more or less an even split, with Russian
immigrants, ultra-orthodox Jews and Arab citizens constituting separate
An intriguing question concerns intermarriages. There
are a lot, and once I believed that they would automatically heal the
rift. That did not happen. Rather, every pair joins one or other of the
The lines are not drawn clearly. There are many
Mizrahi professors, medical doctors, architects and artists who have
joined the "elites" and feel part of them. There are many Ashkenazi
politicians (especially in the Likud) who behave as if they belonged to
"the people", hoping to attract votes.
The Likud ("unification")
party is a phenomenon by itself. The preponderant mass of its members and
voters are Mizrahim. Indeed, it is the Mizrahi party par excellence. But
almost all its leaders are Ashkenazim. Netanyahu pretends to be both.
BACK TO Azaria.
Public opinion polls tell
us that for the large majority of Mizrahim, killing a seriously wounded
"terrorist" (this is how they refer to the Palestinians who resist the
brutal Israeli occupation - Editor) is the right thing to do. After the
singing in court, his father kissed him and cried out: "You are a hero!"
For many Ashkenazim, it was a despicably
One casualty of the affair is the
Chief-of-Staff, Gadi Eizenkot. Until recently, he was the most popular
person in the country. Now he is cursed by the Mizrahim as a contemptible
lackey of the Ashkenazi "elites". Yet, in spite of his German-sounding
name, Eizenkot is of Moroccan descent.
(A personal note. In the
1948 war, I saw with my own eyes many acts of real heroism: soldiers who
sacrificed their lives to save a comrade or who fought on in desperate
situations. I remember the deed of Natan Elbaz, a full-fledged Mizrahi,
who threw himself on an activated hand-grenade to save the lives of his
comrades. I feel insulted when a soldier is crowned with this title after
cold-bloodedly shooting a wounded enemy.)
For more than 40
years now, the army has
not fought a real war against a real military. It has
deteriorated into a colonial police
force, the instrument of a system of oppression of another people. In the
performance of this role, many acts of brutality are committed every day.
Quite recently, an innocent Arab teacher, a
Bedouin citizen of Israel, got involved by accident in an incident, when
policemen clashed with the local population. They shot the teacher, in the
erroneous belief that he was about to run them over.
The man was
severely wounded and bleeding, with policemen all around him. They did not
call the medics. He slowly bled to death. It took 20 minutes.
Only a soldier of the highest human quality, who grew up in a sound human
family, can withstand this brutalizing effect. Fortunately, there are
I BELIEVE that it is there that the solution lies.
We must get rid of the occupation, by
all available means, the quicker the better.
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