Justice Ministry Warns of Loophole in Israel's Brand-new Anti-terror Law

Mistake in wording of new legislation could allow those abetting terrorism escape punishment.

Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli troops in Bethlehem.
AP

A mistake in Israel's brand-new counterterrorism law could allow people convicted of abetting terror to escape punishment, the Justice Ministry warned on Tuesday.

In a rare move, the ministry released a draft amendment to the bill that it said will fix the error. The amendment would mandate a maximum five years jail sentence for people convicted of “preparation of an act of terror.”

The law approved by the Knesset just two months ago stipulates that those convicted of aiding attack should be sentenced to half the jail time the given to the attacker. However, in a memorandum accompanying the draft amendment, the Justice Ministry warned that this wording presents a problem - for example, if there is no conviction for the main attacker.

The ministry suggests not conditioning one conviction of on the other and creating a minimum jail sentence for those convicted of aiding terror, regardless of the results of legal process against the assailants they have allegedly aided.

The loophole, which it says could protect co-conspirator, stems from a change introduced into the original bill by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. That change allowed someone to be convicted of making preparations for a terror attack even if it isn’t clear exactly what kind of attack would have emerged from those preparations – for instance, if someone dug a cross-border attack tunnel that hasn’t yet been used – or what kind of attack the suspect himself intended.

But in cases like these, it’s not possible to convict or sentence an actual perpetrator, so it’s also not possible to determine what “half the perpetrator’s sentence” would be. Therefore, the memorandum said, “It’s necessary to amend this clause and add an alternative sentence that will provide a solution for such cases.”

The ministry said a maximum sentence of five years was reasonable for someone preparing a terror attack, since terror attacks are “particularly serious crimes, due to both the gravity of the acts themselves and the motive and goal of committing this crime.”

In cases where the preparations can be linked to a specific attack, half the perpetrator’s sentence should remain the rule of thumb, the ministry said. But in cases where such linkage isn’t possible, the five-year maximum would apply.