Ending the 'Stone Intifada' in the Glass House of Jerusalem

The new bill threatening stone-throwers with 10 years in jail refuses to recognize that Jerusalem is two cities - just like Nicosia in Cyprus, post-WWII Berlin and Belfast before the peace deal.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A Palestinian youth holds a slingshot during clashes with Israeli police in a suburb of East Jerusalem, Oct.23, 2014.
A Palestinian youth holds a slingshot during clashes with Israeli police in a suburb of East Jerusalem, Oct.23, 2014. Credit: AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Granted, it hasn’t quite been a full year yet, but the long legal pregnancy has nevertheless given birth to a marvelous trick, an unprecedented anti-intifada prescription: If the Knesset approves the proposed amendment to the Penal Code – and why wouldn’t it? – it will be possible to send stone throwers to jail for 10 years without any need to prove criminal intent.

If the prosecution does manage to prove that a stone-thrower intended to damage a car or hurt its passengers, he could be sentenced to as much as 20 years.

The drafting of the bill was presided over by a reputable jurist, Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit. The law is ostensibly blind: It doesn’t distinguish between Jews and Arabs, between old and young, between instigators and those who were just dragged along.

But the bill’s intent was revealed by one sentence in the explanatory notes, which said the need for the amendment “arose during discussions by a task force headed by the cabinet secretary on dealing with the security situation in East Jerusalem, which was established by decision of the Ministerial Committee on National Security Affairs on November 27, 2013.” And we know who is throwing stones in East Jerusalem.

This, the government believes, will put an end to the intifada of the stones: Due to fear of the new law, Jerusalem will calm down, takeovers of Arab houses will no longer spark riots and provocative visits to the Temple Mount will be greeted at most with denunciations.

It’s also safe to assume that the law’s provisions won’t be applied to settlers who throw stones at either soldiers or Palestinians, just as in the hundreds of previous cases where they did so and no one was arrested.

But the problem doesn’t lie only in the discriminatory manner in which criminal law is applied, or in eliminating the need to prove intent to commit a crime. The delusion that the law is capable of coping with a national and religious struggle is what ought to upset people most.

This bill refuses to recognize that Jerusalem is two cities, just like Nicosia in Cyprus, Berlin before the fall of the Soviet Union, Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, and Belfast before the Northern Ireland peace deal.

Its annexation to Israel only intensified the feelings of alienation and loss, especially because it ignored the cultural and national affiliations of Arab Jerusalem and burdened it with a massive Jewish presence that aspired to turn Jerusalem’s Palestinians into mere tolerated (or, more often, not tolerated) guests in their own city.

Granted, municipal bylaws don’t distinguish between Palestinians and Jews. But as Mayor Nir Barkat recently made clear, enforcement of these laws against Palestinian residents will henceforth be strict and hurtful, just as the amended Penal Code will be used only against them. There could be no clearer proof of the city’s division than these two decisions, which come suitably wrapped in the robes of the law.

It’s possible to define every thrown rock as an act of terror, imprison minors “until the end of proceedings” and send tax militias who will confiscate property and destroy houses that were built without permits. Talented jurists can justify almost any legal thuggery. But anyone who is party to these glorious deeds is in any case admitting in the same breath that East Jerusalem is enemy territory – not a sacred organ of the Jewish state, but a hostile Palestinian area like Hebron.

The difference between them is that while legal dealings with West Bank cities can be based solely on military orders, dealing with East Jerusalem requires amending Israeli law in a way that directly affects every Jewish citizen.

Thus because of East Jerusalem, every Jewish child who throws a stone at a car on Yom Kippur, for instance, can now expect a 10-year jail sentence in the best case. Anyone who wants to hold onto East Jerusalem must recognize the fact that every law aimed at solving its problems will also be applied in Tiberias and Afula.

But on second thought, maybe it’s good that Israel is legislating separate laws for East Jerusalem. It means the city’s de facto division is starting to receive de jure status.

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