On Tuesday, Elor Azarya was sentenced to 18 months in prison for firing a fatal shot to the head of 21-year-old Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif who lay incapacitated on a Hebron street, in what Israeli judges found beyond any doubt was an act purely motivated by revenge.
Israel claims that al-Sharif, whose slaying was caught on video, and Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, another youth who was also shot dead in the same incident, had earlier stabbed a soldier at a military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank city.
Amnesty said Azarya’s sentence showed that Israelis who commit violations are “protected by the system”:
“Hero of Israel”
But in Israel, Azarya continues to be celebrated as a hero by many. The latest example is the jaunty ditty in the video at the top of this article performed by legendary Israeli pop star Ariel Zilber.
Zilber also performed the song live to an appreciative crowd outside the courthouse where Azarya was sentenced on Tuesday:The lyrics, translated for The Electronic Intifada by Israel expert Dena Shunra, offer unequivocal support to Azarya.
“Do not despair/Keep your head high,” Zilber begins. His lyrics also denounce the Israeli army’s top brass for supposedly, “Turning their back to the soldier on the battlefield.”
“I hereby announce before the people, the community, that Elor’s trial is our trial, as well,” he sings.
“Elor Azarya, you are the hero/And there are more soldiers like you,” Zilber sings, as the text on the screen declares: “Elor Azarya, Hero of Israel.”
This stanza appears to give religious justification to Azarya’s act and to incite more such killings:
Your war is a holy war
Now is not the time to moan and cry
Do not fear
Operate under the rules of religion and morality
And any person who has a bit of sense in their head:
If anyone acts to kill you – be first to kill them.
There is such a terrible stench coming from the court,
Elor Azarya, we are here with you.
Shunra notes that Zilber moved from a secular to Orthodox identification in the 1990s, as his politics moved to the right. But she says that “his face and voice are as familiar in Israel as Paul McCartney.”
Zilber is known for his ability to write catchy tunes and, Shunra says, “he has had many hits with that attribute.”
While Zilber has in recent years been identified with the farthest-right fringe in Israel, there’s nothing unusual about his glorification of a cold-blooded killer.
Israeli government ministers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have demanded that Azarya be pardoned, and Israelis have held rallies in his support.
As Mondoweiss reported, supermarket chain Rami Levy even printed an image of the killer on its grocery bags, along with the words, “The bag is free. Elor Azarya is paying the price for all of us.”
Netanyahu likes to contrast supposedly more civilized Israel with what he presents as a barbaric and brutal Palestinian society.
“What distinguishes us from our neighbors is that we denounce and condemn murderers in our midst and pursue them until the end, while they name public squares after child murderers,” he has claimed.
This is a lie, as Israel has always afforded high honors and named streets and squares after war criminals and militants who led groups that terrorized, murdered and ethnically cleansed Palestinians.
The glorification of Azarya is only the latest instance of this Israeli tradition in action.
Adri Nieuwhof and Dena Shunra contributed research and translation.