High Court: Israel Must Prove Stone-throwing Law Doesn't Discriminate Arabs

Justices issue temporary injunction against law, which sees families of convicted Palestinian minors lose state benefits while their child is incarcerated.

A Palestinian protester using a slingshot to hurl stones toward Israeli security forces, February 2016.
Musa Al Shaer/AFP

The High Court of Justice has ordered the state to prove it wasn’t discriminating against Arabs in a law that financially penalizes families whose children are convicted of stone-throwing.

The High Court gave the government 45 days to explain how social benefits being withheld from Palestinian families in such cases does not constitute a violation of the principle of equality before the law.

The amendment became law in November 2015, as part of a drive to impose stricter punitive measures on stone throwers. Other penalties included a minimum three-year sentence for stone throwing, which is a tactic commonly used by protesting Palestinian youth.

The amendment states that when a minor is convicted and jailed for any “politically motivated” offense, any payments their families may be receiving – such as child benefits, food and income allowances – will be suspended while the minor is incarcerated.

Several organizations – including the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; Hamoked – the Center for the Defense of the Individual; the Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights; and the Global Movement for Children – petitioned the High Court against the move.

They argued that the state wants to use the withholding of social benefits as a punitive measure, and that the law discriminates between jailed Palestinian and Jewish minors, whose family benefits are not suspended even when the offenses are more serious.

The court, consisting of justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Uzi Vogelman and Anat Baron, quizzed state and Knesset representatives, who argued that the law was aimed at protecting social solidarity. Justice Vogelman replied that “murder is much more damaging than throwing stones.”

The justices issued a temporary injunction, calling on the state to explain why the amendment is legally valid.

“The injunction does not make light of the security aspects pertaining to this amendment, but considers the ostensible lack of equality with regard to these minors when their treatment is compared to ordinary criminal cases. This is what led to charges of discrimination. One should also consider other matters, such as the questionable mixing of criminal and social aspects of these cases.”

Adalah lawyer Sawsan Zaher said the “automatic denial of social rights for parents of stone throwers is meant as a punitive and vengeful measure against children, most of whom come from East Jerusalem.”

Zaher added that withholding benefits “in order to take revenge on parents of these children is a sweeping and impermissible act, contrary to essential principles of criminal law – which requires an examination of each individual on a case-by-case basis. Discriminating against Palestinian minors while refraining from taking similar measures against other minors committing worse offenses, such as murder, rape and drug trafficking, actually creates one criminal law for Arab children and another one for Jews.”