The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a bill on July 20th that will allow people who throw stones at moving vehicles to be jailed for 20 years if intent to damage the car or harm its occupants can be proven, the Times of Israel reports.
But the same bill authorizes punishments for stone throwers of up to 10 years in prison without having to prove intent. It also states that people throwing stones at police vehicles and officers can be sentenced to up to five years in prison, according to the Times of Israel.
As Haaretz reports, prior to the law’s passage prosecutors were hamstrung by a need to prove malicious intent for stone-throwers, forcing them to charge offenders with lesser but more easily-proven crimes. Under the previous law, offenders had to be charged with other violations which did not express the same severity as stone-throwing.
The scuffles between young Palestinians and Israeli police often turn violent, with Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli security forces. Stone-throwing is also a potent and longstanding icon of Palestinian resistance to Israel and symbolises the power of opposing a dominant force with any means available. But since 2011, three Israelis have been killed in the West Bank after rocks were thrown at their vehicles.
Still, the Knesset law would only apply to areas west of the “Green Line,” the 1948 Israeli-Jordanian military disengagement line that separates internationally-recognised Israeli territory from the West Bank.
The law triggered heated debate inside the Knesset. Right-wing and centrist politicians viewed it as a much-needed corrective to an overly-lenient law. For Arab and left-wing politicians, it opens up the possibility of overly-harsh penalties against people who they consider to sometimes be justified in resisting Israeli security forces.
“Today justice has been done. For years terrorists have been evading punishment and responsibility. The tolerance shown to terrorists ends today. A stone-thrower is a terrorist, and only a proper punishment can be a deterrent,” Israeli Justice minister Ayelet Shaked of the far-right Jewish Home party said in response to the law’s passage, according to Haaretz.
The bill was passed with the support of 69 MKs, with 17 opposing. Among the supporters were Tipi Livni, from the centrist opposition Zionist Union, who attempted to pass a similar bill when she was Justice minister under the previous government.
The law defines 2 categories for stone throwing. The first one stipulates that the maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment and forbids the throwing of any object at a moving vehicle in a way that could endanger the people in the vehicle or its surroundings. Prosecutors do not need to prove that the thrower intended to hurt anyone for the offender to be eligible for a 10-year sentence.
The second category carries a maximum sentence of 20 years but in this case, intent to inflict serious harm has to be proven.
The law drew heavy criticism from Arab MKs. Jamal Zahalka of the Joint List party responded by criticising the rationale behind punishing stone-throwers:
“Imagine that we bring before a righteous judge, the stone-throwers, and those who caused them to throw stones,” said Zahalka, according to Haaretz. “Who will the judge send to prison? He who demolished the home, seized the land, killed the brother, or the boy who threw a stone? … The one who demolishes the home gets a medal, but the boy whose anger is justified gets punished. There is no justice in this law.”
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