Ethics in Combat

A wounded Palestinian, Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, was shot as he lay on the ground by an Israeli military medic, Elor Azaria, on 24 March 2016. The military tribunal has ruled that the manslaughter conviction carries a jail sentence of 18 months.

The Guardian newspaper states “Presiding judge Maya Heller said the panel had found that Azaria’s actions had seriously harmed the values of Israeli society as a whole, as well as violating the “purity of arms” of the Israeli military’s ethical code.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and other politicians have called for Elor Azaria to be pardoned.

Sharif’s family commented  “Even though the soldier was caught on video and it is clear that this is a cold-blooded execution, he was convicted only of manslaughter, not murder, and the prosecution asked for only a light sentence of three years. The sentence he received is less than a Palestinian child gets for throwing stones.”

If it is accepted that the wounded man posed no risk to the Israeli soldiers milling around, the punishment for the fatal shooting is incredibly lenient by any humanitarian standards.

The IDF’s own code of ethics states in a paragraph headed  Purity of Arms “The IDF servicemen and women will use their weapons and force only for the purpose of their mission, only to the necessary extent and will maintain their humanity even during combat. IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property.”

Elor Azaria was heard to say that Sharif “deserved to die” for wounding a comrade. A pardon for Azaria would send a clear message that Israeli soldiers can kill with impunity, no matter what.