This Thursday Hebrew Academy held its fourth Debate Midrash to discuss the recent controversy in Israel over whether an IDF soldier should be sentenced for manslaughter for killing a Palestinian terrorist. Students shared their opinions in an open mic forum, expressing a variety of viewpoints on the situation.
First students viewed the video showing the moment that would forever change 19 year-old IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria’s life, when he killed Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif, a Palestinian terrorist, during an attack on March 24, 2016 in Hebron. His unit stopped the attack, leaving one assailant dead and al-Sharif incapacitated on the ground. Azaria said he saw the terrorist’s arm move, so the teenage soldier shot him. The video immediately went viral, drawing harsh criticism upon the young sergeant. This past Wednesday, Israel charged Azaria with manslaughter, spurring many debates in the country.
Students discussed whether Israel did the right thing or not by convicting their own soldier to 20 years in prison. Armed with an incomplete picture, many speakers felt that Elor Azaria should not have killed the terrorist.
“Israel actually has a court system that carries out the law instead of its citizens. This guy, this terrorist, definitely wasn’t innocent,” said Jacob Lurie (12th grade). “He definitely deserves to die for that, but we humans, we individuals don’t get to decide whether or not somebody gets to be killed. It’s the court system that gets to decide. Israel is a democracy. That’s what makes us different from our neighbors.”
Others felt that Azaria was right to kill the terrorist.
“Our court system is doing nothing about this when terrorists come and kill people, and there’s no death penalty,” said Alex Farkas (10th). “I think that what he did was right because he knows that this guy is just going to get off and go to jail and come back educated and even more lethal than he was before.”
However, many noted that there are two important facts not obvious from just watching the video: the terrorist was wearing a full coat on a hot day, and Elor Azaria reportedly said that the terrorist “deserved to die.”
Hadassah Bixon (10th) pointed out that the heavy coat easily could have concealed explosives, which is why Azaria shot al-Sharif in the head when he saw the terrorist’s arm move. “They were suspicious because all of the other terrorists were wearing short sleeves, but he was wearing a jacket, so they thought there were bombs in the jacket,” she said.
Many students applauded at this defense of Azaria, but some were still not convinced.
“You have to trust the justice system,” said Dylan Del Giglio (10th). “Once you kill him, you lose all reason. That is why punishment was enforced, and he deserved it.”
Morah Kravetz mentioned a halacha to defend the soldier’s actions.
“There is a halacha called הבא להרגך השכם להרגו (if somebody comes to kill you, you are allowed to kill them first),” said Kravetz. “Israel assassinates terrorists. They are sitting in their house, not trying to kill anybody, but they’re known terrorists. This is a terrorist. This man tried to kill us. He was going to kill us again after he served his jail sentence or if he was part of an exchange with the Israelis that they kidnapped.”
An argument against Azaria’s spur-of-the-moment decision was that a commander reported that Azaria said that the terrorist “deserved to die” at the shooting. However, it is not clear if he said this before or after he shot, so this quote cannot be used to show that Azaria premeditated his shot. By: Jack Benveniste-Plitt (10th Grade)