Even before Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan nominated a police commissioner and a commander for the fraud squad, he made an urgent appointment — an editor for his Facebook page. This person’s work began with a new background photo: Erdan consulting with members of the Border Police.
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Most of Erdan’s recent posts have had to do with the troubles in East Jerusalem, stone-throwing and criticism of the courts’ alleged leniency toward Palestinians. Almost every day, an Erdan post tells the public and media how determined he is to act against stone-throwers, including minors, and against judges who hand down lenient penalties.
This comes after the security cabinet issued a temporary order that would set a four-year minimum sentence for throwing either stones or firebombs. But suspects’ defense attorneys talk about discrimination in the courts and police against Arab stone-throwers, especially minors.
“A stone can kill, that’s true,” said attorney Mohammad Mahmoud, who represents many recent arrestees in East Jerusalem. “But any stone can kill, not just a stone thrown by an Arab. The penalties on minors from East Jerusalem are harsh and don’t solve a problem, they only make it worse.”
Since Rosh Hashanah eve in East Jerusalem, 137 people have been arrested for disturbing the peace. Of these, 61 are minors. Also, seven minors under the 14-year-old threshold for criminal responsibility have been detained.
To the end of August this year, 300 indictments were issued for disturbing the peace, 120 of which were against minors. Around 200 East Jerusalem minors are in Ofek Prison, which houses only minors, most on charges of disturbing the peace; 70 are there for throwing stones at security forces and vehicles.
A look at verdicts in recent years show differences in sentencing for Jewish and Arab stone-throwers.
In February, a Tel Aviv District Court judge sentenced an East Jerusalemite to 16 months in prison for throwing stones at a vehicle on the road to Ma’aleh Adumim. A month before, a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge, Dana Cohen-Lekach, sentenced two minors to six months and eight months respectively for throwing stones at cars in East Jerusalem.
And in 2011, Magistrate’s Court Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman sentenced an East Jerusalem resident who threw stones at a demonstration during Gaza fighting to nine months in prison.
“I have a 14-year-old about whom we agreed with the prosecution for a 10-month sentence for throwing a firebomb that didn’t hit anything,” Mahmoud said. “Two weeks ago a 16-year-old client got 10 months in prison for throwing a stone at a bus. Today the punishment is very harsh for minors.”
According to Mahmoud, Arabs don’t receive the option to swap a prison sentence for community service or another alternative. When Jews disturb the peace, “the court doesn’t find them guilty, and if it does, they don’t get more than three months,” while no Jewish minors are sentenced to prison at all, Mahmoud says.
Recent verdicts show that there is truth to Mahmoud’s claims. For example, a Jewish Israeli took part in a demonstration by Jews, Palestinians and foreigners on the outskirts of the village of Nabi Saleh and was caught throwing stones at police. He was sentenced to two months in prison, which was replaced by community service at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
In 2013, the president of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, Shulamit Dotan, sentenced to six months’ community service a man convicted of attacking police during demonstrations by the ultra-Orthodox against the opening of a parking garage on Saturdays.
In July, Jerusalem District Court Judge Amnon Cohen sentenced an ultra-Orthodox man who set fire to garbage dumpsters, threw stones at police and hit a policeman in the face with a fist-sized stone to only seven months in prison.
In 2009, Nazareth Juvenile Court Judge Yuval Shadmi noted “two parallel and essentially different enforcement routes for ideological offenses by minors.” He was referring to arrests of Arab minors for violence at demonstrations during Operation Cast Lead compared with arrests of Jewish minors for violence during events like the dismantling of the West Bank settlement of Amona.
With Arab minors, in most cases the state seeks a prison sentence for offenses involving attacks on security forces, while with Jewish minors, most cases are resolved before the verdict phase, Shadmi said. “If the state believes that ideological offenses justify leniency toward minors, this should be done for all minors, regardless of nationality or religion,” he said.
As a senior police official put it a few days ago: “It’s right to come down hard to stop the threat of what’s happening now, but it would be right if this discussion were held with welfare and education officials as well .... We won’t get anywhere just by coming down hard.”