When Jews Throw Stones, Will Israeli Police Open Fire?

Government endorsement of deadly force against all stone-throwers and making it the law of the land will technically apply to Arab and Jew alike.

Allison Kaplan Sommer
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A Palestinian slings stones at Israeli police in an Arab suburb of JerusalemCredit: Reuters
Allison Kaplan Sommer

“It’s not a rock, it’s murder,” declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he postured behind a wooden lectern incongruously perched atop the Jerusalem hillside, while he announced he was “declaring war” against stone-throwers.

The measures he dramatically announced from the spot where Alexander Levlovich lost his life in a fatal car accident, when his car was attacked by Palestinians throwing rocks, included giving soldiers and police greater leeway to open fire on those who throw stones, bottles, or explosives, increasing the minimum penalties for stone-throwers and “massively” imposing fines on the families of minors proven to be tossing stones - he emphasized that such new regulations would apply inside the Green Line as well as in the West Bank. The centerpiece of the new measures that came out of an emergency government meeting after Levlovich’s death, allows police in Israel proper to follow the same open fire regulations against stone-throwers as the army does in the West Bank.

But before Israelis pat their government on the back for taking such steps to deter future incidents, they should pause and ask themselves whether they are ready to declare all stone throwers - or, as the prime minister would put it - attempted murderers - equal.

The consequences of government endorsement of deadly force against all throwers of rocks, bottles and explosives and making it the law of the land will technically apply to Arab and Jew alike.

And let’s not fool ourselves - Jews are no strangers to rock-throwing.

Recent examples of Israelis using stones as weapons against Palestinians are numerous, especially, but not exclusively in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Residents of East Jerusalem have thrown stones at the neighboring Palestinian refugee camp, Shuafat. Just last January, settlers threw stones at an American convoy containing diplomats who came to examine complaints that settlers destroyed Palestinian-owned olive groves. And Palestinian complaints of stone-throwing and firebombing as harassment methods happens again and again.

And then there is the frequent use of stone-throwing in situations utterly unrelated to the Palestinian conflict. Protesting crowds of ultra-Orthodox Jews have thrown stones while decrying everything from army recruitment, to archaeological digs, to Shabbat desecration, to members of their community being arrested for tax evasion. Stones have also been hurled at the cars of secular and national religious women deemed to be inappropriately dressed in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

And can we really forget so quickly that it was just last April, that angry Ethiopian youth stood in the streets hurling stones, bottles, and firebombs at storefronts and police in the heart of Tel Aviv.

Would anyone advocating using live fire against them?

Nearly all leading politicians prefer to ignore this reality when they advocate for increasingly harsh measures against stone-throwing, certain that they should, and will, only be applied to Palestinians. But once upon a time it was thought inconceivable that administrative detention measures designed to apply to Palestinians would be taken against Jews - and today it is a reality.

An exceptional display of honesty occurred last June, when acknowledgement came from one ultra-Orthodox politician that tough laws against stone throwing might end up affecting his community.  Ultra-Orthodox Knesset member Itamar Eichler of United Torah Judaism opposed a measure by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, that was later voted into law,  to crack down on stone-throwers by lengthening prison sentences to as long as 20 years. (This law was touted as a deterrent against stone-throwing, though it seemed to have little effect on whoever threw the stone on Rosh Hashana eve that led to the Levlovich’s death)

During the debate Eichler worried openly in an radio interview that, “The problem with laws is that you never know how they are going to be applied.” He attempted to draw a distinction between someone throwing rocks for “emotional expression of pain” and those who throw with intent to kill or maim or attack the government. He insisted that he wasn’t making a distinction between Arab and Jewish rock-throwers - only between frustration and homicidal intent.

But the deep-seated motives of the stone-thrower matter little to the person injured by the rock or the family of someone killed by the deadly missive. To the victims, all stone-throwers - terrorist, protesters, thrill-seeking youth, Arab or Jew - are created equal - and so it should be in the eyes of the law.  

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