In less time than Palestinian terrorist Abdel Fattah al-Sharif spent subdued on the ground last March before Israel Defense Forces Sgt. Elor Azaria fatally shot him in the head, Azaria’s supporters began calling for his pardon after he was convicted of al-Sharif’s manslaughter Wednesday, Jan. 4.
The appeals on Azaria’s behalf aren’t surprising. After all, he’s only 20, and he’s someone Jews in Israel and around the world can relate to because it happened while Azaria was on IDF duty, doing his best to protect his nation and his people. It’s easy for so many Israelis to imagine how they would have felt if they arrived on the scene of another stabbing attack and saw a friend wounded.
But our possible reactions in similar circumstances and our emotions now as we see a young man facing 20 years in prison don’t change the most basic fact: Azaria killed a man who had been immobilized and posed no threat to him or any other soldier on the scene.
Our sympathy for Azaria’s family doesn’t change the fact that three experienced military officers listened to all the testimony in a full, fair trial and agreed that the sergeant committed a crime.
And our anger at the young terrorists who launch random knifings, shootings and vehicle rammings and at the Palestinian “leaders” who incite such homicidal hatred does not change the fact that Israel is and must be a nation of laws, and when a citizen is convicted by a court, he has a path of appeal through the justice system.
Any effort to circumvent that system, including calls for presidential pardons from politicians up to and including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is wrong. Azaria can, should and will appeal his conviction, and if he exhausts his appeals, as President Reuven Rivlin explained in rejecting the crowd-pleasing calls for the soldier to be cleared, his attorneys are the only ones who can make a proper case for a pardon.
It’s impossible to miss the parallels between Azaria’s case and those of American police officers caught on video when shooting unarmed men. In both situations, the videos are shocking but don’t always tell the whole story. That’s why it’s so important to let an independent justice system carry out an investigation and, if necessary, a trial.
People on all sides must believe that justice is blindly impartial in any free society, and despite the intense pressure on anyone in the job of protecting his fellow citizens, that position of trust requires holding him to the highest standards. A pardon may be justified; if so, it will come in due time.
The IDF is the most moral army in the world, but it is composed of humans who make mistakes. They must be held accountable for those mistakes. To do otherwise, to let Azaria go because he’s young and he did what many of us would like to do when confronted with a terrorist, is to surrender the moral high ground. That’s territory more precious to Israel than the Western Wall or the Temple Mount.