Israel introduces controversial 20-year jail sentences for stone throwing
Long sentences could be meted out to culprits proven to have intended to cause harm while lesser offenders could face up to 10 years in prison
Stone-throwers could be jailed for up to 20 years under a controversial new law passed by Israeli MPs.
The new legislation – supported by Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government – was passed by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, despite bitter criticisms from Arab parliamentarians who said it was aimed at oppressing Palestinian protest.
The maximum 20-year term will apply in cases where there is proof that offenders intended to inflict harm.
Sentences of up to 10 years could be passed down to those convicted of throwing stones at civilian vehicles without prosecutors having to prove an intention of causing harm.
Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s Right-wing justice minister – who spearheaded the legislation, described its law’s passage as “justice done”. ”
“For years, terrorists avoided punishment and responsibility. Tolerance towards terrorists ends today,” she said. “A stone thrower is a terrorist, and only an appropriate punishment can be deterrent, punitive and just.”
The new law was an amended version of a bill provisionally passed by the Knesset last year under the guidance of Tzipi Livni, Ms Shaked’s predecessor as justice minister.
Ms Shaked said the previous bill – which was never enacted – needed to be amended because it insisted on a need to prove intent, making it hard to pass tough sentences.
The legislation was drafted following an outbreak of stone-throwing disturbances in mainly Arab East Jerusalem last year following the abduction and murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Ab Khdeir by Jewish vigilantes motivated by revenge for the killing of three Israelis in the West Bank by Palestinians.
The new law, worded by a committee headed by Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, Avihai Mandelblit, splits stone throwing offences into two categories.
The first, carrying a maximum 10-year sentence, outlaws throwing a stone at a moving vehicle in a way likely to endanger its passengers or people nearby. The second, incurring potential 20-year jail terms, forbids the throwing of stones or missiles at a vehicle with intent to injure or harm the occupants.
A separate category carries a five-year sentence for throwing a stone at a police patrol car.
The law will have force only inside Israel and East Jerusalem, and not in the occupied West Bank, where alleged stone-throwers are dealt with by Israeli military courts. This month, a Palestinian teenager was shot dead by a senior Israeli officer after throwing a stone at his army patrol vehicle in the village of A-Ram, near Ramallah, in the West Bank.
The United Arab List, representing the Knesset’s 13 Arab MPs, condemned the law as “collective punishment” and said its goal was “to oppress the Palestinian’s civilian and popular struggle”.
Jamal Zahalka, one of the list’s MPs, said there was “no justice” in the law.
“Imagine bringing before a truly just judge the stone thrower as well as those responsible for him throwing the stones. Who would the judge put in jail?,” he asked during a heated parliamentary debate. “The one destroying [the stone thrower’s] home, expropriating lands, killing his brother, or the boy who threw a stone?”
“You are picking on the person who responded to the major injustices, such hypocrisy.”