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The Shot Heard Round the World

It happened in March, on our silliest, most joyous holiday, Purim. Two Palestinian terrorists walked into the Jewish enclave in Hebron, took out knives and stabbed a soldier. One terrorist was killed; the second lay on the ground twitching until an Israeli soldier, initially referred to as Sergeant A and later identified as Elor Azaria, calmly shot him in the head. The controversial NGO B’Tselem, well known for its fostering of anti-Israel propaganda, filmed the incident, then uploaded it to the Internet.

It made ugly viewing.

Unsurprisingly, Israel’s critics had a field day. Based on the video alone, the UN’s so-called Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov judged it a “gruesome, immoral and unjust act,” while U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called for an investigation of Israeli human rights abuses and proposed a law to cut off U.S. military aid. Joint List Israeli-Arab MK Ahmad Tibi blamed the death on the “incitement of Israeli ministers and politicians.”

What was spectacularly different, however, was the harsh, uncompromising stance of the Israeli army itself. Head prosecutor of Israel’s Military Advocate General, Col. Sharon Pinchas Zagagi, initially suggested that the soldier be charged with murder and suggested that in shooting the neutralized terrorist “deliberately and without operational justification…he’d proved himself…a danger to others.” IDF Spokesman Brigadier-General Moti Almoz followed suit: “This is not the culture of the IDF, and not the culture of the Jewish people and not connected to military framework in any way.” The condemnations rained down from the top, with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stating clearly: “We act with a steel hand against terrorists and those who send them…Even then, we must not act in violation of our values and conscience…Our power does not only stem from our military capability but, first of all, from our moral strength. This is our duty, to win, and to remain human.”

The average Israeli, however, for whom the IDF and its soldiers are sacrosanct, could not have disagreed more. Some surveys showed that more than 85 percent of Israelis sided with the shooter. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered all over the country to support him, readily agreeing with HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home Party) MK Moti Yogev, who cited recent incidents where wounded terrorists who were thought to have been neutralized then attacked soldiers. “The goal of the terrorist is to die, and I would prefer a dead terrorist to a dead soldier,” he told Army Radio.

Here are the views of an injured veteran, who was caught in the explosion of a 30-kilogram terrorist suicide belt at a Tulkarem checkpoint in 2005 because, as he wrote in an online post, IDF rules of engagement prevented him from killing the terrorist before “ascertaining with complete certainty” he was wearing an explosive device:

“I’m absolutely sick of it… A soldier shoots a terrorist and makes sure he’s dead and the entire media publicizes ‘atrocity photos’ about an ‘execution.’ IDF soldiers don’t execute. They confirm terrorists are neutralized. This soldier made sure a terrorist with the means and intent to murder Israeli soldiers was dead. So before you start blabbing about ‘rules of engagement’ remember that the same rules got my commander Uri killed and myself seriously injured with battle trauma for the rest of my life. This soldier was a hero, and I salute him.”

By coincidence, the same week all this took place, my grandson became an IDF soldier. We sat around watching as he opened the traditional pre-army presents families give to their children before bidding them goodbye as they begin three years of uncertainties, dangers and frightful choices, years made necessary by the unrelenting, merciless war against the Jewish people in their homeland by the basest of men for the most hateful of reasons. He looked so young to me, my grandson. So young. He is a good boy, deeply religious, who’d spent the preceding year in a yeshiva. Despite our family’s concerns, he’d insisted on joining a combat unit and had picked the bomb squad. What did he think about Sergeant A? “I don’t listen to the media,” he said, shaking his head. “They always get it wrong.” Then he smiled, trying on the watch we’d gotten him and opening the Swiss Army knife, counting how many ways he could use it.

Azaria was initially jailed, facing a possible murder charge. He was then ordered released by a military judge, who confined him to an army base and disarmed him while he awaits trial. The judge partially dismissed the military prosecutor’s harsh accusations by saying the facts of the case were “not unequivocal and could be understood one way or the other.” The prosecutor appealed this decision but subsequently reduced the charge to manslaughter. He has since been indicted on that charge.

How do I feel about Azaria? Israel Hayom columnist Emily Amrousi summed it up: “I don’t know if I’d let him go out with my daughter, which doesn’t change the fact that I’m on his side. He’s a soldier, and we’re at war.”

This article was first published in the May-June 2016 issue of Moment.

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21 comments on “The Shot Heard Round the World”

  1. Lonny

    To anyone reading this:
    This post is attempting to manipulate you by conflating this event with suicide bombers, and many of the comments are flat out lies.
    It is interesting that this blog post makes it appear as if the the army is disconnected from the population.
    I would not be surprised if this post is part of a campaign in support of Netanyahu’s actions against the Israeli security establishment.

    The video posted by the commentator David Cohen is extremely disturbing, but makes it clear the soldier killed in cold blood.

    The video clearly shows that no one has any fear of the injured Palestinian on the ground.

    The shooter can easily be picked out in the video: he is the only soldier wearing a cap.
    All the other soldiers are wear helmets.
    He himself can be seen in the beginning of the video near the Palestinian, showing no concern.

    At one point he steps out of the activity near the Palestinian.
    His view of the Palestinian may even be blocked by an Ambulance.
    The ambulance leaves. He then steps forward approaches a soldier, and as he is talking to him, “calmly” — the right choice of words — cocks his rifle, aims and shoots.

    Interestingly, one man, wearing black sees the soldier and appears to understand what is about to happen, this other man who is walking by the Palestinian, calmly plugs his ears and watches.

    Many of the people than stare at the soldier.
    It is after the shooting that you hear a lot of raised voices.

    In the video no one checks the Palestinian for bombs, before or after the shooting.

  2. Seymour Weiner

    I heard nor saw any comment from the UN or Leahy condemning the attackers

  3. Barry Koplen

    Interesting that your article closes with a comment, “I don’t know if I’d let him go out with my daughter.” That seems to be a non sequitur; I’d feel doubly safe if such an alert and courageous young soldier had chosen my daughter. After having served as a volunteer with IDF, I saw how seriously each soldier takes his or her responsibility to protect those who are targeted.

  4. healer

    If B’Tselem had been around when David decapitated unconscious Goliath, David would have been jailed, if not killed.

    • Rabbi Fleshing

      I shudder to think what would have happened if Obama had been around …

  5. Rochel Sylvetsky

    Too bad you used the word “calmly” which makes him sound like a cold blooded murderer. It was anything but ‘calmly’, he was afraid the terrorist had explosives and he had seen his friend stabbed. I would also let him go out with my daughter if he was suitable in other ways. What a glib insult that is.

    Most important, hope your grandson returns well and safe, but if even he is in that situation and shoots, I will let him go out with my granddaughter.

  6. Gustavo

    I d wished the Palestinian side would be expected to behave the same way. That their leaders were expected to condemn those who murder instead of rewarding them calling a street with the name of the murderer and paying a pension to his family.

  7. Naomi Romm

    If this happened in any other country not a word would have been said. We parents and grandparents would like to believe that when we send our children to serve either as soldiers or Lone soldiers that they are not at the mercy of the Leftists who only mission in life seems to please and appease the enemy. As a subsequent video showed the young man’s actions were absolutely correct. If anything Elor Azaria deserves a medal.

  8. Tobi Kern

    This is another case of the media distorting facts and twisting the truth. Very often a soldier needs to make a split second decision regarding not only his own safety, but also the security of everyone in the area. This soldier acted bravely to save lives and neutralize a terrorist. What other army in the world would be vilified so unjustly?
    He should be totally exonerated; his bravery should be rewarded.

  9. Saul Rapkin

    Let the trial be held and ALL of the facts become public. Trying to convict or absolve Sgt. A in social media is a disservice to him and the IDF

  10. David Bornstein

    The Sgt. Is a hero. The B’ tselem scum have no place in Israel. The would be murderer is in a place where he cannot be used to trade with Arab Muslim scum in a prisoner swap.
    War is war. The Arabs calling themselves ” Palestinians” have brought each and every catastrophe upon themselves. They are solely responsible for the situation they find themselves in, with no Arab state wanting them – they disgust even their own brethren.

  11. Jon Stevens Alon

    If Be’Tselem cowardly mercenary (earning their living in Israel safe, protected by the very men and women who serve Israel with honor they continuously attack)parasites were living in Gaza (as they should), HAMAS would have killed them ALL. They should be deported to Gaza. I hope that the owners, and their families become Palestinian terror victims. It is ashamed that the Israeli government allows these EU/BDS agents, enemies of the State of Israel go about their business undisturbed. Too bad they are not Palestinians who know how to deal with traitors. I spit on their graves and will REJOICE when they are all get killed or maimed by the Palestinian scum murderers they protect.

  12. Rabbi Fleshing

    If B’Tzelem really wanted to do some good in this world, they would go to Syria, Iraq, Libya or any of the other “Arab Spring” countries and film the real atrocities happening there day in and day out. Instead, they are only on the scene in a safe place like Israel where they can pounce on and publicize every Jewish mis-step. They are nothing but self-hating Jews abusing the freedoms Israel allows them with the aim of destroying the Jewish people in the name of their post-modern post-value self-destructive guilt.

  13. Irmgard Gesund

    I didn’t realize that b’selem had removed the sound from that video, and consequently, removed evidence which explained the soldier’s action. Is this widely known and acknowledged by the authorities and Israeli public? I would hope that this would go a long way towards exonerating the soldier. Thank you, Bob Hathaway, for your comment on this subject.

    The instantaneous “harsh, uncompromising” reaction of the upper-level leadership of the IDF (and many governmental leaders(?) is due, it seems to me, to a rather despicable fear of the “uncompromising, harsh” anti-Semitic world attitude towards Israel.

    • Bob hathaway

      Irmgard, yes, those facts were widely reported in the press initially. That’s is why I was so astounded when they brought the soldier up on charges. It seems very evident to me that this is all political.

  14. Warren T. Young

    The irony of what’s happening to our brothers and sisters and children in Israel and around the world is hard to take.
    When will hatred and persecution end in a peaceful solution finally? We ALL need to wake up & learn from experience that violence is never the answer. We have thousands of years to reflect upon that. Whether we realize it or not we Do have a loving God who has provided a way for us – the only way. Yes we must stand ready to defend ourselves, but time is running out… Cruelty is not the answer… Some day there will be peace. Never give up hope!

  15. Peter Holland

    The man should be made a hero of Israel, good work, one stinking terrorist less who could harm other Jews in the future.
    The more we clean up, the lesser of them, the better for us.

  16. Allan Kaufman

    The soldier should be given a medal. How many future lives did he save by killing this monster terrorist? Yes, Israel and Western society is at war. If we don’t kill them, they will kill us.

  17. Bob hathaway

    Your article doesn’t mention that b’selem took the sound off the video before posting it. That sound showed the soldiers shouting that the terrorist has a bomb. He was dressed in a heavy coat on a hot day and while lying on the ground, wounded, was moving his hands as though trying to find the detonator switch to set off a suicide vest. I would have shot him too.

  18. Ethel Schwartz Bock

    I think he acted righteously – the story of Uri (which I read before) tells us what happens when terrorists are still alive. Sgt Azaria should be free and never spend a minute in jail.
    Ethel Schwartz Bock

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