While the Elor Azaria case is relatively unusual in the annals of the Israel Defense Forces, it is not unique. Indeed, a number of soldiers and officers have faced courts-martial on charges of manslaughter, for alleged crimes committed in the course of military operations.
The best-known case is that of Major Shmuel Malinki, convicted in the Kfar Qassim massacre and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment, of which he served slightly more than three. Strangely, Malinki soon returned to the defense establishment, as a security officer at Israel's Nuclear Research Center.
However, over the last decade, no member of the IDF has been convicted of an offense as serious as that with which Azaria is charged. The last such case was that of Sgt. Tayseer al-Hayb (demoted to private in the wake of his conviction), who had shot and killed a British citizen during a demonstration in Rafah in 2003. Al-Haby's 11-year sentence, considered to be particularly harsh, was in part a result of his having lied during the investigation. Another soldier whose name cannot be published was accused of manslaughter during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, but reached a plea agreement that led to a reduced charge.
Over the years, there have been several other incidents in which IDF soldiers were accused of unjustified killings. These include Eli Yadid, who was convicted in 1988 during the First Intifada of shooting a rubber bullet at close range; his sentence was 21 months behind bars. Another case – Lt. Yaakov Gigi – included a manslaughter charge and involved a solider opening fire without justification. Along with his soldiers, Gigi abducted a taxi driver in Dahariya, shot and wounded the man, and then ran down another Palestinian. In addition, there is the conviction of Naef Rahal, accused of the unjustified shooting of a Palestinian in Rafah. Convicted of intentionally causing severe injury and obstruction of justice, he was sentenced to 18 months in military prison.
In summary, one can assert that the number of soldiers put on trial for unjustified fire in general, or charged with manslaughter specifically, is not many. As such, it is of great importance that we continue to investigate those situations that raise suspicion that the actions of IDF soldiers were not aligned with the rules of war.
The small number of prosecutions could lead to claims that Israel is trying to cover-up suspicious behavior or refraining from serious investigations and prosecutions. Hence, Israel must continue to support the IDF by carrying out effective, independent and genuine investigations of IDF soldiers in cases where suspicions arise. This is the only way to ensure that IDF soldiers are acting according to the law and in the spirit of the IDF.
In the end of the day, internal investigations are Israel’s best defense against international condemnation or claims against it and the most effective tool for safeguarding the ethos of a strong and moral society.