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Palestinian protesters receive harsher sentences than Israeli murderers

Israeli forces arrest a Palestinian youth on 23 October 2010 [Najeh Hashlamoun/Apaimages]
Israeli forces arrest a Palestinian youth [Najeh Hashlamoun/Apaimages]

Elor Azaria, an Israeli solider who murdered a Palestinian in cold blood, just had his already-derisory sentence reduced by the army chief of staff.

Azaria become a hero to many in Israel after the incident last year at an illegal Israeli checkpoint in Hebron, a city in the occupied West Bank.

Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif and Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, both 21, were shot dead by Israeli soldiers in March last year. The Israeli government accused them stabbing and moderately wounding a soldier in the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood of Hebron’s Old City.

Azaria was caught on camera as he calmly and deliberately shot al-Sharif in the head as the youth lay badly wounded and completely subdued on the ground.

Settlers look on as Israeli forces evacuate the body of Abdel Fattah Al-Sharif, killed by Israeli army medic Elor Azaria in Hebron , Israel on March 24 2016 [file photo]

Settlers look on as Israeli forces evacuate the body of Abdel Fattah Al-Sharif, killed by Israeli army medic Elor Azaria in Hebron , Israel on March 24 2016 [file photo]

During the trial, Azaria was offered support from the highest political levels, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for him to be pardoned altogether.

In February this year Azaria was sentenced to a derisory 18 months in prison.

If Palestinian lives were deemed of any value at in in Israel, Azaria would have been given life in prison. Instead he was given a slap on the wrist. And now, his sentence has been reduced on military order to 14 months.

After this has been reduced by another six months, as seems likely, for “good behaviour,” Azaria will likely spend no more than eight months in jail. Little illustrates the apartheid nature of Israeli “justice” better than this.

By way of contrast, 21-year-old Ahmad Yasser Baraghithi was in 2014 sentenced to eight years in jail for allegedly throwing stones at Israeli occupation forces in Jerusalem during Palestinian protests against Israeli occupation. That’s eight years, not the token eight months the killer Azaria seems likely to serve.

The fact that Azaria will serve any time in jail at all is only down to the brave Palestinian volunteer who filmed the graphic video of Azaria calmly butchering al-Sharif. Israeli settlers on the scene are heard in the video shouting, “the terrorist is still alive,” and the “the dog is still alive.”

During the trial, the court heard that what Azaria did was very much routine practice by the Israeli army, who murder Palestinians in the West Bank on a routine basis.

“In terrorist incidents I witnessed, I saw with my own eyes that in every instance in which a terrorist attacked, soldiers shot him in the centre of mass until he was neutralized … and [shot] a bullet to the head to ensure that the terrorist could not set off a suicide belt or continue the attack. These soldiers never went to court,” a long-time civilian security chief for Jewish settlers in Hebron, told the court.

The Palestinians who filmed the video and gave it to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have received death threats for exposing the crime.

Many other Palestinians spend far longer in jail than Azaria, often for “crimes” that amount to nothing more than simply speaking out against Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

Palestinian poet and photographer Dareen Tatour spent more than a year and three months in jail and house arrest for the “crime” of writing a poem entitled “Resist, my people, resist them.” The poem called on Palestinians to fight back against Israeli occupation, to “Resist the colonialist’s onslaught” and “Pay no mind to his agents among us.” Israel has a long history of criminalizing such literary expression of the Palestinian liberation struggle.

Lina Khattab is a young Palestinian who in 2014 and 2015 spent almost as much time in jail as Azaria seems likely to now. Her “crime” was to dance at a protest against Israeli occupation, which they had deemed an “illegal demonstration.” Pretty much any demonstration Palestinians organize against occupation in the West Bank is deemed “illegal” by Israel, which likes to portray a thin veneer of legality for its sponsors and political allies in the West.

Israel’s “military courts” are sham show trials which have no credibility whatsoever when it comes to Palestinian accused. Judges and prosecutors alike are all Israeli soldiers, and we are supposed to buy the Israeli propaganda which claims that this fix of a system will hold the occupation authorities to account? No.

Israel’s kangaroo courts system has a 99.7 per cent conviction rate – for Palestinians alone. This is yet another cold hard fact which makes Israel’s system in the occupied West Bank a racist one – a systematic apartheid reality, backed to the hilt by the US and the EU.

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