Friday, January 06, 2017

Is a Public Service Murder Justified?

"We never abandon soldiers" say protesters of  the guilty verdict   (TOI)
First let me say that I could not be happier that Abdel Fattah al-Sharif is dead. He was a Palestinian terrorist that stabbed an Israeli soldier in an attempt to murder him.

Al-Sharif was shot, wounded and neutralized by Israeli soldiers. A few minutes later another Israeli soldier, 19 year old Sgt. Elor Azaria, approached the incapacitated al-Sharif as he lay wounded on the ground and shot him in the head. (see graphic video below) Al-Sharif died of his wounds. Azaria was arrested and ultimately charged with manslaughter. On January 4th 2017, Azaria was convicted of manslaughter by a military panel of three judges.

As much as I am glad that Israel has one less terrorist to worry about, I am also quite comfortable with the verdict. Shooting a subdued human being in the head who is not a danger to anyone is murder (in this case manslaughter). While I don’t know all the specifics of the case, I trust that the 3 military judges heard every word of testimony and came to a just conclusion.

There are 2 separate issues here. The death of a terrorist and the rule of law. I favor both. I respect any democracy that has set up a system of justice that attempts to be fair and equitable for all. Certainly Israel’s system of justice qualifies. So I am not going to second guess this judicial panel. Justice has been served.

Although I admit I don’t know all the facts, from what is known the basic facts seem rather clear. Which means that from an ethical perspective the decision was correct. Killing someone while he is subdued is murder according to Halacha. It doesn’t matter if the victim is Jewish or not. It’s still murder. Nor does it matter what the goals of that victim were. Even if it was to murder someone. As long as he is unable to carry that out by virtue of his incapacitation, no one has a right to kill him.

If on the other hand had al-Sharif  been a threat, then it would not only would it be permitted to kill him, it would be a Chiuv - a Mitzvah to do so. Even if the assailant had been a Jew. You cannot stand idly by while your brother’s blood is being spilled. Not doing so would be a serious violation of Halacha. But this was not case here.

There has been a public outcry about this verdict. One that encompasses the entire spectrum of politicians including Israel’s sitting Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu who at first condemned the killing. It seems the country is divided. Half of it asking that Sgt. Elor be pardoned by Israel’s sitting President, Ruvein Rivlin, in whose lap pardons lay. He has said that he will weigh that option should Sgt. Elor request it.

One may ask, what is the justification for pardoning Sgt. Elor? Why do so many people across the political spectrum in Israel support that? One answer I have heard mentioned is that the morale of the IDF is at stake. Soldiers do not want to be second guessed about their reactions to terror situations that suddenly arise. The fear might be that this will create hesitations about killing terrorists where seconds count and lives would be saved. I hear that. Another reason might be because of the feeling that killing a terrorist is just no matter what the circumstances are. I hear that too. There may be other reasons that there is such a public outcry. Like I said - I am not sorry that al-Sharif is dead.

But you cannot get away from the fundamental ethics of killing someone that is subdued and not a threat to anyone – no matter how clear the evil of his intent was. The point is he couldn’t carry out that intent in his condition. And that makes it murder. That is how the 3 judge military panel saw it. And since they know all the facts of the case, I trust them.

What about the pardon? Justice will not be served if this ‘public service murderer’ will be allowed to go free. That said I’m not sure I would sentence the man who killed a terrorist to the maximum sentence allowed by law either. I wasn’t there. I was not in his shoes – watching a companion being attacked by a knife wielding terrorist. Knowing that he will live to tell the tale and be released from prison one day even if convicted. He will then once again be free to try it again and maybe next time - succeed.  I cannot imagine what Sgt. Elor was feeling at that moment. Sgt. Elor may very well be an otherwise good person. But no one should ever get away with murder. Thankfully I am not the one that has to decide. I will leave it up to the judges to determine a just sentence.