For two and a half hours earlier today, a panel of Israeli judges explained, in great detail, its decision to convict IDF sergeant Elor Azaria of manslaughter for shooting a wounded Palestinian terrorist. The decision—scrutinizing every bit of available evidence before rejecting Azaria’s claim that he had shot the man, Abd-el-Fatah a-Sharif, because he was concerned a-Sharif may be wearing an explosive device—is a masterwork of legal argumentation. It is also morally repugnant, and likely to compromise Israel’s ability to effectively and resolutely deter the homicidal maniacs who repeatedly set out to stab, shoot, stone, torch, and bomb its soldiers and citizens.
|Having resolved to operate outside the scope of civilized conduct, terrorists sign their own death warrants when they pick up the knife or the gun and set out to murder and maim whomever they happen to meet.|
The problem with the Azaria decision isn’t with its process but with its premise : a detailed examination of a soldier’s conduct is sensible only if we assume that the victim is entitled to the fundamental protections we award citizens and, in cases of outright war, enemy combatants. But terrorists deserve none of these protections. Having resolved to operate outside the scope of civilized conduct, they sign their own death warrants when they pick up the knife or the gun and set out to murder and maim whomever they happen to meet. The circumstances of their demise hardly matter: whether they are killed in action or executed once neutralized is a matter for technical and internal arbitration, not criminal investigation. Azaria may be guilty of disobeying the army’s open-fire regulations, and if he is he should be punished accordingly, but to convict him as you would someone who had taken the life of an innocent man is a grotesque mockery of justice.