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He who hesitates can carry blood guilt


Elor Azaria has gone to jail. He is the Israeli soldier who faced a terror attack, then shot dead a Palestinian who was already neutralized.

Whether you think that he is a good soldier who accidentally made the wrong call in a pressured terror situation, or that he engaged in a horrible act of revenge, or that he is a national hero who deserves a medal, it’s a sad day.

Since the story broke a few months back, I have read many documents and testimonies related to this case. It is no longer clear to me that   even made a mistake or the wrong call. Not because of the incredible dignity with which he has conducted himself, and not because he stood his ground in his insistance that he did what was right — in the face of enormous pressure to express contrition in order to lower his sentence or receive a pardon.

It’s just that the more you read about this case, and the more you hear actual testimony from those present, the murkier the story gets. Certainly, the classic legal definition of proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt seems far-fetched in Azaria’s case. Add to that the reality that Azaria is going to jail over the killing of a rampaging murderer, a man who minutes before the fatal shot was fired was acting with the intent to kill, and Azaria’s imprisonment hurts even more.

Even if one believes Azaria was wrong, let’s remember that we are not talking about the killing of an innocent man.

Violence or killing when not in self-defense is not justified, but the circumstances certainly color the picture. Somehow there is this warped perception that the status of a Palestinian who was engaged in attempted murder reverts to that of a normative civilian once he is neutralized.

In London recently, the moment terrorist perpetrators were found they were killed on the spot. Not a peep of protest was heard. A terrorist came to kill, and the legal assumption is: Stop him before (more) innocent human lives are taken.

The subtext of Azaria’s trial is that the biblical dictum, “when one rises to kill you, preempt him in the killing,” has been rewritten by some in Israel to be, “when one rises to kill you, preempt him and kill yourself/or have yourself killed.”

That may sound cynical, and a part of me is surprised to hear those thoughts in my own head. Still, I wonder, why is allowing your own to be killed not unethical?

The Azaria case ought to have been dealt with internally, by the military, as a combat issue. Instead, politics took over, due to a video filmed by leftists. Between the military brass, the legal system, the media that crucified him, this is not how one should treat a loyal, devoted, young soldier who protects Jewish lives in the Jewish state.

We are not talking about someone on a revengeful killing rampage here, the likes of the outlier Baruch Goldstein. No, quite the opposite. Azaria was in fact responding to just such a man, whose terrorism, unfortunately, is not the act of a lone outlier.

The “what if” scenario that was assumed in Israeli media was that Azaria made a mistake, that the terrorist was wrongly killed rather than sentenced to jail for his crime. Here is the “what if” scenario that was not assumed: The terrorist survived and detonated himself, with more innocent human lives lost at the scene of this crime — due to Azaria’s hesitancy.

How does anyone know which “what if” scenario was the most apparent to Azaria at the time? How can the media be so sure that its “what if” scenario was the correct one?

The truth is, no one knows what would have, could have, or should have, happened. What we do know is that a terrorist was killed and no subsequent innocent lives were lost.

When one reads the initial reports, before the sanitized versions were layered over them, it seems clear that there was a reasonable basis for Azaria to believe danger was still present.

Anecdotally, I read the heartrending testimony of a soldier who was in a similar situation to Elor Azaria’s. He made the opposite call. He didn’t shoot the terrorist before him dead.

To this day, he lives with the paralyzing pain. If only he had not hesitated (he was unsure whether the neutralized terrorist lying before him was simply fat or had a bomb under his coat) due to fear of legal consequences in the event the terrorist turned out not to be harboring a bomb. Then, his friends and fellow soldiers would still be alive today.

He carries the guilt of their blood in his heart.

Many seem so sure of Elor Azaria’s guilt. Many seem so sure of Elor Azaria’s fatal error. Many seem so sure that justice for Elor Azaria has been served.

I’m not so sure.

I still think about all those other, very possible “what ifs.”

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News