Israel, Land of the Death Penalty

Here’s a conversation the accused might have with his lawyer if the government goes through with its plan to impose the death penalty for murder in a terror attack.

A Palestinian terrorist is seen behind bars, on the eve of his being released.
Ilan Assayag

“Ahmed, we’ll skip the cliché of the good news and the bad news,” said his defense lawyer. “Decide for yourself what belongs to which category. You’re about to be an important shahid. A brand name. A Wikipedia entry. City squares will be named after you. At the last moment of your life you’ll have the privilege of meeting the commander of the firing squad – Elor Azaria” the Israeli soldier who shot a Palestinian assailant already lying wounded on the ground.

Ahmed processed the data. He didn’t know whether to brag or be disappointed. True, he had murdered, but there were worse murderers, mass murderers. Nobody would remember them. A matter of timing, his attorney explained.

“You’re the first in line since the signing of the coalition agreement, the Netanyahu-Lieberman agreement. There’s nothing we can do; agreements must be honored. The Knesset, in an accelerated process, has completed the legislation. The Death Penalty for Non-Jewish Terrorists Law, 2016. It doesn’t apply to the guys who burned the Dawabsheh family. Terrorists is you, Ahmed.”

“And I’m the first to be executed in Israel since Eichmann? Officially, I mean, not like after Bus 300,” he said, referring to the killing of two bus hijackers by the Shin Bet security service in 1984.

“It’s not final. It depends on your friends. When Mahmoud Hijazi, a Fatah member, was sentenced to death for destroying property, without casualties, they kidnapped night watchman Shmuel Rosenwasser in Metula and did a prisoner exchange. But those were different times. The ‘60s, early ‘70s long before Avigor Lieberman arrived in Israel.”

“Who were the wimps who agreed to that deal?”

“Golda Meir. Moshe Dayan. Yigal Allon. The attorney general was Meir Shamgar. The army chief was Haim Bar-Lev. They’re all nobodies compared to Lieberman. He’s using the law as an ax.”

“It will be an honor, though not a pleasure, to go down in Israeli history as the first client of the Lieberman law.”

“The name isn’t final. It may be called the Sergeants’ Law, in memory of the two British sergeants who were kidnapped by the Irgun in 1947 to deter the British from hanging right-wing fighters who got a death sentence. It failed, as we know. On both sides everyone was put to death.

“Or there might be another name: the Hannibal Law. In the draft bill it will be explained that the goal is to ‘increase the risk to the lives of Israel’s citizens, soldiers and members of its security services by imposing a death penalty on terrorists.”

“And in words that can be understood by anyone at such an increased risk?”

“The Lieberman Law will be the legal expression of the army’s Hannibal Law – a military commander will have the authority to attack fleeing kidnappers who take a hostage with them, even at the price of possible harm to the hostage, because preventing the kidnapping is more important than his life.

“When the military court sentences you to death you’ll have enough time months on end to submit an appeal and continue the process. During that time your friends, and maybe even members of other organizations, will make a supreme effort to kidnap Israelis.”

“They’re already trying, using the tunnels and other methods.”

“Your death sentence will spur them to work harder, and quickly. They’ll consider soldiers, policemen, civilians, women, children, prosecutors, judges, ministers. In Israel and abroad. It’s impossible to guard every Israeli all the time everywhere. In Moldova, in Austria, in all the countries that Lieberman likes to visit for some reason.

“And when the kidnapping succeeds, Israel will give in and revoke your death penalty, because otherwise it will basically be applying the Hannibal procedure to the hostages – risking their deaths to prevent the kidnapping.”

“That sounds too logical and explains why there’s no point to the death-penalty law, which will expose their impotence. But what if they act on emotion and instinct? Don’t forget they’re catering to an audience of Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi.”

The lawyer had an answer to that question too.

“In such an event your bullet-riddled body will be led, to the cheers of the masses, on a wagon harnessed to two mules. It will be in the military parade that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Lieberman will be getting next Independence Day.”