‘Everyone's Child’: The Challenge of Judging Israeli Soldiers in the Shadow of the Conflict
Law, Culture and the Humanities (2019): https://doi.org/10.1177/1743872119852078
47 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2019 Last revised: 1 Sep 2020
Date Written: May 1, 2019
This article addresses one of the most important and high-profile legal dramas in Israel in recent years: the trial of the soldier Elor Azaria, who shot and killed an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron. It seeks to explain why the trial, which was compared to the O.J. Simpson trial in the USA, generated such unprecedented public controversy. I argue that rather than the ostensible central question of the soldier’s mens rea, the trial’s significance is in revealing competing images of the Israeli soldier upon his encounter with the law. Against the soldier’s legal categorization as a perpetrator (first accused, then convicted), the soldier’s supporters propagate an alternative image of the soldier as an innocent, victimized son, invoking the contested metaphor “everyone’s child.”
The article argues that this polarized view of the son-soldier nexus, foundational to the republican ethos of Jewish-Israeli society, affects the legal accountability of soldiers as official duty holders. I first consider David Grossman’s novel To the End of the Land (2008) as a text that imagines anew the hierarchies between the filial son and the national soldier, identifying two distinct yet intertwined processes of filialization and infantilization underlying this change. Based on the insights derived from the literary discourse, I move to offer a close reading of the court proceedings in the Azaria case, analyzing the law’s response to these conflicting images of the son-soldier.
Keywords: law and literature, criminal law, military law, lethal use of force, Israeli Palestinian conflict
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