The fate of just one low-ranking Israeli soldier was hanging in the balance. But for many Israelis, the guilty verdict announced on Wednesday was a critical turn in the battle for the character of the state.
When the military judges convicted Sgt. Elor Azaria of manslaughter for shooting a Palestinian assailant in the head as he lay wounded on the ground, they were ruling not just on his conduct but also on the host of ethical and political issues it raised. Since the shooting in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron in March, the case has polarized Israelis and rocked the pedestal on which the military normally stands.
With the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank approaching, the highly charged trial had fueled a debate about military ethics and the place of the army in Israeli society. The verdict did little to heal the rifts the trial had exposed: Hours after it was rendered, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined a chorus of voices calling for the soldier to be pardoned.
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