The Knesset passed into law on Monday night an amendment to the Penal Code that will enable those who throw stones at cars to be convicted and sentenced for up to 20 years without the state having to prove that they were trying to damage cars or harm their occupants. The new law also makes it easier to punish those who throw stones at police patrol cars.
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Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who shepherded the amendment through the Knesset, said, “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.”
The bill also had the support of some from the opposition, namely they Zionist Union. MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) had promoted the amendment during the previous government, in which she had served as justice minister.
The wording of the bill was the work of a committee headed by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit, who examined how the situation in East Jerusalem was being dealt with. However, like other laws, the new amendment only applies within the Green Line and will not affect legal proceedings in the West Bank.
During the committee meetings it emerged that the current law limited the police an court's ability to punish stone-throwers due to the need to prove malicious intent on their part. To convict stone-throwers, prosecutors often had to charge them with other violations, such as attacking a policeman or vandalizing a vehicle, but none of these charges expressed the severity of and the unique risks posed by stone-throwing. If the stone thrower acted from a crowd of demonstrators it was often difficult to prove that they deliberately intended to hit the car it damaged.
Under the new law, stone-throwing violations will fall into two categories. The basic category, for which the maximum sentence is 10 years’ imprisonment, forbids the throwing of a stone or any other object at a vehicle in motion in a manner liable to endanger the passengers in the vehicle or people in the vicinity. The harsher category, carrying a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment, includes the issue of intent, and forbids the throwing of stones or any other objects at a moving vehicle with the intent to seriously harm the occupants.
The new law also creates a new category of violation, forbidding the throwing of a stone or other object at a policeman or at a police vehicle, with the intent to interfere with the policeman’s performance of his duties or to prevent him from performing them. Stone-throwing at a police patrol car carries a sentence of five years’ imprisonment.
In presenting the bill for its second and third readings to the Knesset, Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky said, “David killed Goliath, the strongest Philistine of all, with a stone; in other words, a stone can kill. A third of the arrest cases in the Jerusalem District Prosecutors Office deal with this dangerous phenomenon of throwing stones. This phenomenon, which endangers human life and sows fear among the public, must be aggressively eradicated.
"The courts give very light sentences compared to the punishments set by the legislature even in more serious cases, and the legislature must render assistance to law enforcement and convey an unequivocal message about this issue,” he said.
Several Arab MKs expressed their opposition to the bill, with the Israeli Arab party, the Joint List, saying the it was a form of oppression against Palestinians.
"The law's goal is to oppress the Palestinian's civilian and popular struggle," the party said in a statement, adding that the law is a form of "collective punishment" and is reminiscent of "racist laws of dark and totalitarian regimes." According to the Israeli Arab party, the law "stands in contradiction to criminal law and the basic values protecting human rights."
“Imagine that we bring before a righteous judge, the stone-throwers, and those who caused them to throw stones,” said MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List). “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? You are picking on the person responding to major injustices, what hypocrisy! 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.”
MK Haneen Zoabi said, “We are not talking about a law, we are talking about the occupation. If the law is meant to protect the weak, it is also meant to protect those victims who are killed every week by soldiers; it is meant to protect those who are threatened and endangered by the occupation, by the soldier that chases after Palestinian teens through the alleys. Imagine a soldier with a gun facing a teenager with a small stone, what symmetry is there? The oppressed is obligated to expel the oppressor.”
MK Ahmed Tibi said, “There’s a military order that if soldiers come to an area where Jews are demonstrating and one of the demonstrators attacks a soldier, it’s forbidden to shoot him because he’s a Jew. Under the same circumstances when it’s Arabs they shoot to kill, they call it neutralizing. There are instances in which Jews have attacked officers and weren’t even arrested.”
The Israeli Arab party's statement also slammed the opposition for supporting the law, saying it "proved once again that there is no fighting or moral opposition, only a populist one signaling to Netanyahu that they want to join the coalition."