Israel approves 20 year prison terms for stone throwers

© Ammar Awad
The Israeli Knesset has overwhelmingly passed a new law that radically toughens punishments for people who throw stones – a tactic that is predominantly used by Palestinian protesters.

Sixty-nine deputies voted for the bill, which was approved in the second and third reading, following hours of heated debate on Monday night, with 17 parliamentarians opposing it, the majority of whom were Muslim.

“Tolerance toward terrorists ends today. A stone-thrower is a terrorist and only a fitting punishment can serve as a deterrent and just punishment,” said the architect of the new legislation, Israel's Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is a member of the ultra-Zionist and religious Jewish Home party.

Ayelet Shaked © Gali Tibbon

The law prescribes a sentence of 10 years if prosecutors are unable to prove harmful intent from the stone thrower, and 20 years, if it is clear that the attacker desired to cause bodily harm. Additionally, jail terms of up to five years will be handed down to those who “obstruct” police activity by throwing stones, and target law enforcement vehicles. It will only be effective within Israel’s official borders, and not in the occupied territories.

About 1,000 people are charged with stone-throwing by Israeli courts every year, with most facing punishments of between several months and two years. Shaked said the sentences were “very soft” and argued that the previous legislation placed the onus on the prosecutors to prove intent.

“Anyone who throws stones at cars or people has to assume someone will get hurt,” she previously explained, when giving a rationale for the new legislation, which was initially proposed by her predecessor Tzipi Livni last year.

The bloc of Arab MPs was incensed by the new 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? The one destroying the stone thrower’s home, expropriating lands, killing his brother, or the boy who threw a stone?” said Jamal Zahalka from the Arab Joint List, The Times of Israel reported.

© Ammar Awad

“You are picking on the person who responded to the major injustices – such hypocrisy. Those who demolish homes receive medals, but the boy who’s anger is justified is imposed with punishments. There is no justice in this law.”

Fellow Arab deputy Ahmad Tibi argued that the law was more likely to be applied to Palestinians than Israelis. Tibi also noted that Palestinian demonstrators were already vulnerable to disproportionate use of force from the authorities, which regularly open fire with live ammo at heated demonstrations.

“Every single one of you knows that the punishment of a Palestinian, even if he throws a non-lethal stone, is a death sentence,” said Tibi.

The law has been described “racist” by Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoner Club, an organization providing assistance to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

"This law is hateful and contradicts the most basic rule that the punishment fit the offense," Fares said, as cited by Reuters.

Over the past decades, stone-throwing has become an iconic form of resistance and protest by Palestinians, with clashes between the IDF and stone-throwing youth in West Bank and east Jerusalem often making the headlines.

Rock-throwing also regularly occurs alongside West Bank roads. Israeli settlers in the disputed region have also used the tactic in their own clashes with the IDF. Three Israeli citizens, including a baby, have been killed by pelted rocks since 2011 in the West Bank.