Late last week, Channel 2 news reported that three senior reserve officers — Maj. Gen. Uzi Dayan, Brig. Gen. Shmuel Zakai, and Gen. Dan Biton — will testify for the defense of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who is on trial for shooting and killing a Palestinian who stabbed an IDF soldier in Hebron, though he was already immobilized.
Zakai had previously posted on his Facebook page that Azaria’s treatment “is disgraceful and rife with hypocrisy, and principally unprofessional.” Dayan argues that the Military Police Criminal Investigation Division (MPCID) shouldn’t be the body designated to investigate such incidents, but rather an internal investigation committee.
A few weeks ago Dayan broke silence in an interview with Radio Darom in which he declared his stance on Azaria’s trial, explaining the normative mode of behavior the army needs to adopt:
I had a similar more grave case, much more grave, in which five Palestinians were killed by paratrooper combatants at the Tarqumiya crossing. Not only were they not terrorists, they also weren’t illegal aliens. They were people returning from work in Israel and there was some misunderstanding. I stopped the soldiers, though they really didn’t like that at the time…I said, for three days you’ll conduct a commission of inquiry and give me the results. Not the MAG the MPCID, nor anyone else – you give me the results…I saw the results. I said four things, conclusions, what needs to be done, the soldiers didn’t even go on trial. Today the situation is different in the sense that there are immediate photos and the entire press is involved, there’s a lot of pressure on decision-makers.
But did this really happen? And if so, what was the purpose of Dayan’s boasting, which by all accounts should lead to a criminal investigation against him? And what are Azaria’s attorneys hoping to achieve by bringing in his irrelevant testimony? We will try to answer all these questions, but first let us focus on the event Dayan spoke about.
On March 10, 1998, at about 6 p.m., a white van carrying 12 Palestinian laborers heading home from work approached the Tarqumiyah crossing, between Israel and the southern West Bank. As the van entered the checkpoint, it veered slightly to the right, hitting one of the soldiers lightly. The soldier would later say that it wasn’t an accident, and that he saw “rage coming out of the driver’s eyes.” The soldiers, apparently aware of an alert issued the previous day of an imminent car-ramming attack, thought they saw one unfolding and opened fire. Three passengers were killed and another two were injured.