A news story appeared in Israel you might want to read if you care about Israel (Uzi Baruch, “The IDF discarded my son, and my family collapsed”, arutzsheva, January 24, 2015). This story could change how you think about the IDF (Israel Defense Force).
This story was about the beginning of the sentencing process for an Israeli soldier, Elor Azariya. Sargent Azariya was recently convicted of manslaughter. He had killed a wounded terrorist who, minutes earlier, had attacked Israeli soldiers. The focus of this story was how the family of this 19-year old had been devastated since their son’s arrest. He had been arrested in March, 2016. He’s been in prison ever since.
His trial ended in November, 2016. He was found guilty of manslaughter on January 4, 2017. This week, his sentencing deliberations began. The actual sentencing will probably take place in February.
News outlets have speculated that Azariya will serve less than the maximum 20-year term available for manslaughter. The speculation is, he’ll get 3-5 years. This sentence, it is said, will not including the 10 months he's already served in prison. It will be tacked on.
During the trial, Israel’s military hierarchy seemed overwhelmingly to condemn Azariya. But this statement might not be true. The day Azariya was arrested, IDF leaders rushed immediately to condemn him. From that moment on, few if any officers declared their support for Azariya.
No one was willing to contradict his superiors.
The Israeli public, however, overwhelmingly supported Azariya (David Rosenberg, “Israeli Jews overwhelmingly support Elor Azariya”, arutzsheva, September 7, 2017). The public rejected the IDF’s rush to judgment.
Since September, 2015, there have been hundreds—perhaps thousands—of terror attacks against Israel. Israelis want to see the IDF take a strong stance against these attacks. Many Israelis are tired of the IDF appearing to spend more time worrying about the rights of terrorists at the expense of the safety needs of Israel's Jews. It’s no exaggeration to say Israelis are frustrated.
That’s why, during the trial, 64.8 % of Israelis surveyed supported Azariya for killing the terrorist (ibid). Less than 26% felt he was guilty.
Since Azariya’s arrest, the family has suffered. During the trial, Azariya’s father had a stroke, his father’s brother had two heart attacks and his mother lost 38 kilos of bodyweight (app 83 pounds) (ibid). The family asserts that the IDF has abandoned Elor (ibid).
Many Israelis sympathize with this family. After all, the soldier arrested for this incident could have been their child.
Traditionally, Israelis love the IDF. Many Israeli youth can’t wait to enlist. Their parents support their children serving their country. Their neighbors support them.
But that’s changed. After the trial, Israelis did not support the IDF verdict. 70% of Israelis favoured a pardon for Azariya, not imprisonment (David Rosenberg, “70% favour pardon for Elor Azariya”, arutzsheva, January 5, 2017). Then, morale in combat units (where Azariya served) showed signs of sinking specifically because of the verdict (David Rosenberg, “Army report suggests morale declining among combat soldiers”, arutzsheva, January 12, 2017).
Now, January 24, 2017, as Azariya went into court, he was met with applause from those sitting in the gallery (ibid). But when the military judges entered the court to take their seats, they got no applause. They came into court surrounded by bodyguards (ibid).
The IDF has a problem. It’s abandoned its soldiers. It has completely detached itself from the majority of Israel’s public. It forgets that a hefty percent of Israelis have served in the IDF. Many have served on guard duty. They know how officers are supposed to behave. They know ‘the drill’. The handling of the trial just didn’t ring true to these citizen-soldiers.
Some Israelis say this trial revealed officer incompetence at the scene of the terror incident (Shimon Cohen, “Azariya trial: 'Deficient conduct by officers”, arutzsheva, September 18, 2016). But the IDF ignored that incompetence. Instead, they argue, the IDF decided to create a show-trial with this youngster.
The IDF decision to try Azariya didn’t sit well with Israelis. Israelis certainly didn't like the verdict. That discomfort could explain why the IDF now requires bodyguards to protect military judges against the very people it’s supposed to protect—Israel’s Jews.
The IDF has changed, all right. It handcuffs our soldiers. It creates rules of engagement that make it increasingly impossible to face terrorists with strength. Some argue that we saw the consequence of this IDF change at the first terror incident after the trial, when many soldiers hesitated to shoot or didn’t shoot at all at the terrorist (Tuvia Brodie, “Azariya: IDF uses fake news. Becomes keystone kops”, tuviabroidieblog, January 13, 2017). They were afraid. They suffered from an ‘Azariya effect’—the feared they’d be arrested if they fired their weapons.
That’s not a good sign. It’s not how the IDF is going to protect us.
Will the sentencing process for Sargent Azariya reflect any awareness that the IDF is losing its national support? The odds are, the answer to this question is, no.
The IDF has changed. Israeli attitudes towards the IDF have also changed. That’s not good for the IDF—or for Israel.