Last year was a violent one in Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank. In March 2016, video footage filmed by a Palestinian and released by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem showed Elor Azaria, a 20-year-old Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldier, shooting an incapacitated Palestinian attacker in an execution-style killing, in the city’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood. In late June 2016, a Palestinian stabbed a 13-year-old Jewish girl to death while she slept in her bed in Kiryat Arba, an Israeli settlement contiguous to Hebron. A Hamas terrorist fired on a settler family driving south of the city, killing the father, and injuring the mother and children in early July. (In response, the IDF imposed harsh travel restrictions for the roughly 900,000 Palestinians in the Hebron district, and cut off all outside access to the nearby al-Fawar refugee camp for 26 days.) Stabbing and ramming attacks by Palestinians in the area continued over the fall; in many cases, the IDF killed the assailants.
Then, in early January 2017, in a divisive verdict, a military court headed by three judges found Azaria guilty of manslaughter. The verdict exacerbated tensions between the IDF and right-wing Israeli politicians who excoriated the military for pursuing the case in the first place. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and other Israeli politicians, have even called for Azaria’s pardon. When the verdict came down, the Netanyahu government was still reeling from the Obama administration’s decision in late December to abstain from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution reaffirming long-standing international consensus: that Israel’s settlement-building in the territories it has occupied since 1967 is illegal under international law. (Historically, U.S. officials have massaged the issue by calling settlements “obstacles to peace” and refrained from explicitly referencing their illegality.) Several days later, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a speech on Israel and Palestine also largely recapitulating U.S. policy in the region. Again, the Netanyahu government howled in protest.