Hebron Killing Provides Vision To View Lanka’s Issues
by Gamini Weerakoon
- Sri Lanka is no exception being accused of ‘war crimes’
- The arrest and trial of the Sergeant had deeply divided Israelis
- This tragic and horrible incident is relevant to countries like Sri Lanka
The shooting of a 21-year-old Palestinian, who lay injured on the ground in Hebron in Occupied Palestine, by a 19-year-old Israeli army sergeant is of much relevance to countries where groups resorting to violence challenge the authority of established governments such as Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Yemen, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and even more.
An Israeli Army Sergeant was last week found guilty of manslaughter by an army court. Since his arrest and throughout the trial Israelis were deeply divided on the issue. Killings of Palestinians who are considered terrorists by Israeli forces have happened over the years but the army personnel responsible appeared to be immune to criminal charges. To Israelis their armed forces – who defend the country – surrounded byARAB countries whose leaders are having sworn their determination to destroy Israel – are virtually sacrosanct.
So are armed forces of many other countries. They are held in the eyes of the public, even in advanced democracies albeit not with the same fervour. Having personnel of the armed forces put on criminal trial for offences committed in the course of performance of their duties or even slurs cast on them, are viewed with disdain.
Sri Lanka is no exception being accused of ‘war crimes’ committed during the last phases of the war against terrorism by foreign countries and even the UN. After seven years since this so called terrorist war ended, much heat is generated – even right now – on the appointment of judges to investigate the alleged offences in accordance with a resolution passed at United Nations Human Rights Council.
The Israeli army Sergeant Elor Azaria was charged and convicted for manslaughter – not murder – by the army court. A Palestinian Abdul Fatah al Sharif, along with another Palestinian had attacked and stabbed an Israeli soldier at a check point, the army had alleged. The attacker had been shot at by another Israeli soldier, injured and fallen on the ground when Sgt. Azaria had shot the fallen man through his head.
The arrest and trial of the Sergeant had deeply divided Israelis with the majority of Israelis being strongly opposed to the trial with the backing of rightwing politicians and the army. The conviction resulted in ugly scenes in the court itself. The Defence Minister Avigor Lieberman had disagreed with the verdict and the right wing hawkish Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has called for Zaria to be pardoned. Only the President of Israel Reuven Riovlin has the authority to issue pardons and he had said he would wait for the legal process to run its course before making a decision. Reports said that the Sergeant would appeal against the conviction.
There is much sympathy for the Sergeant among Israelis. They see him as a victim of bad luck. He was on trial only because of his action being filmed. Reports said that these Israelis consider Azaria to be their own son.
Relevance to Lanka
This tragic and horrible incident is relevant to countries like Sri Lanka, far away from Hebron because it provides a perception about reactions of people when their armed service personnel are accused of such war crimes while engaged in military duties. To Muslims of this country this incident will be of greater relevance because of the ties of the Muslim Umma (brotherhood) than the rest. They have always supported the cause of Palestine because of the injustice done and also their religious bonds. Tamils who bore the brunt in the war on terrorism in Lanka will be sympathetic with the victims of aggression like themselves.
Sri Lankans such as Buddhists, Hindus and Christians with no such bonds of attachments save political ties and Arab interests of some politicians can view the problem more dispassionately.
Some of these people feel very much for Sri Lankan servicemen who risked their lives in defeating terrorism and would be willing to forgive and forget the crimes committed – if proven. Retributive justice they say can only open up old wounds. Others will want justice to be done at any cost irrespective of the people involved.
It had been told in the military court that Azaria had said before pulling the trigger: ‘How is it that my friend was stabbed and the terrorist is still alive? After the shooting he had said that the terrorist deserved to die. The court had also noted that Azaria made anti Palestinian statements in the social media. This shows premeditation. There is much speculation on why the Israel army went ahead on prosecuting their Sergeant even though for the lesser offence of manslaughter than murder. One reason is believed to be that pictures of the live shooting of the fallen man going viral it was hard to give the Nelsonian Eye. Besides it would have damaged he reputation of the mighty Israeli armed forces. Some Arab writers have said that the Palestinian Authority seeking to have Israeli armed services taken before the International Criminal Court in the Haig could be another reason.
However the court held that the accused opened fire in violation or orders given and the terrorist did not pose any threat to the sergeant’s life. Azaria has appealed against the conviction and what course Israeli military justice would take is to be seen.
Human Rights and the UN
Much concern has been expressed about violation of human rights in various nations in recent decades but all this would not even add up to a mere speck if compared with the violation of human rights that took place in Syria during the last five years under former Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s watch but nothing was done.
Meanwhile Sri Lankans concerned about human rights have a situation closer to home in Myanmar where the Myanmar army is being accused of committing severe atrocities of Rohingya Muslims, thousands of whom have been forced to take refuge in not too friendly neighbouring Bangladesh. Even Aung Suu Kyi, the Myanmar leader, a Nobel laureate and a Buddhist, is being accused of not doing enough to protect minority Rohingya Muslims.
Regrettable as these incidents of horrendous violence in faraway lands are, they do provide Sri Lankans and also other nations an opportunity to view how fair or not accusations made against their military men have been.
Should Appe Kollo (our boys) be protected from investigations like in Israel or let justice be done?