Analysis |

Severe Punishment for Palestinians, but It's Not the Same Stone When Jews Throw It

A stone thrown by a Palestinian was endowed with magical powers by Israeli lawmakers, but then Jews also joined the ranks of stone-throwers — and nobody would even dream of sentencing them to 20 years in prison

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A Palestinian protester throws a stone towards Israeli forces during clashes on the beach near the maritime border with Israel, in the northern Gaza Strip. October 1, 2018.
A Palestinian protester throws a stone towards Israeli forces during clashes on the beach near the maritime border with Israel, in the northern Gaza Strip. October 1, 2018.Credit: AFP

The experience of living in this land, at least since the first intifada began in 1987, shows that the act of throwing stones at people comes in different varieties. It can present various levels of objective danger, depending on the size of the stone, the distance from which it is thrown, the strength and skill of the thrower, the degree to which the target is protected and whether the target is a person or a moving vehicle.

Also relevant are the thrower’s intentions, which can similarly vary. They range from an intent simply to throw through an intent to hurt to an intent to kill — or, even if there is no intent to actually kill, the knowledge that this is highly likely to be the result. Each stone has its own circumstances.

Thus in 2015, due to the tragic, lethal results of stones thrown at cars and an atmosphere tinged with hysteria, the Israeli legislature took action and greatly increased the penalty for throwing stones at vehicles or anyone in their vicinity.

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Article 332a of the Penal Code stated that throwing a stone that could endanger a person’s safety (even if it were incapable of endangering human life, but merely caused fear or panic), would carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail, regardless of the thrower’s intent, and even if it didn’t actually cause any harm.

If the stone were thrown with intent to hurt someone, the maximum sentence was doubled, to 20 years. Again, that’s even if no actual harm was caused, and if the intent was merely to hurt, not to kill.

But the legislature still wasn’t satisfied. It also added that if the stone were thrown by a minor, his parents would be denied their right to various National Insurance Institute benefits.

These measures, being aimed at Palestinians, seemed necessary and justified and won broad political and public support. No one ever asked how the maximum penalty for stone-throwers who intended harm could be 20 years even if no actual harm resulted, when 20 years was also the maximum sentence for killing somebody intentionally, but without premeditation. A stone thrown by a Palestinian was endowed with magical powers.

But as time passed, Jews also joined the ranks of the stone-throwers. And some of their stones caused injury; some even caused death.

And suddenly, when they are Jews, the penalty for people who throw stones at moving vehicles seems too severe, even if the thrown stone is suspected of having produced a lethal result. More than a few people are asking questions. Are the suspicions sufficiently grave to warrant an intensive interrogation by the Shin Bet security service? Preventing the suspects from meeting their lawyers? Prolonged detention?

It turns out that when the hand doing the throwing is Jewish and the victim is Palestinian, the significance of the act changes and its severely antisocial character evaporates almost completely, especially when the suspects are teens who study Torah, and are therefore “children.” Even if they are proved guilty, nobody would dream — and rightly so — of denying their parents social benefits.

When stones are thrown at the security forces, their character also changes based on the identity of the thrower. If he is Palestinian, there’s zero tolerance. If he’s Jewish, they’re prepared to take it.

Similarly, inciting others to throw stones changes its nature completely based on the identity of those being incited. If they are Palestinians, it’s incitement to violence. But if they are Jews, it’s merely hot air.

We won’t be able to escape this trap until we make peace. It’s no accident that Yehuda Amichai, in his poem “A Temporary Poem of my Time,” urged, “Please do not throw any more stones ... Throw limestone, throw clay, throw sand of the seashore, throw dust of the desert, throw rust, throw soil, throw wind, throw air, throw nothing, until your hands are weary and the war is weary and even peace will be weary and will be” (translated from the Hebrew by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav).

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