Opinion |

Do Not Kill in My Sons Name

What makes us think that by enforcing the death penalty we will prevent crime? Will it bring my beloved David back?

Robi Damelin
Robi Damelin
Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset, December 27, 2017.
Justice Minister Shaked in the Knesset last month, calling for death penalty for terrorists.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Robi Damelin
Robi Damelin

There is a new game in town, called the death penalty. The powers-that-be in Israel are bent on copying such enlightened countries as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nigeria in their quest to end terrorism. Even the attorney general has no taste for revenge, and is likely to oppose the bill.

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But this will not stop Yisrael Beiteinu and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in their pursuit of revenge. Why have we lost all understanding of human nature? What makes us think that by enforcing the death penalty we will prevent crime?

A quick look at world statistics will prove that the death penalty has never been a deterrent to further murder and crime. In fact in our case it may encourage copycat phenomena. When the death penalty takes place, he who was executed will become somewhat of a folk hero and his status even more revered than a prisoner.

I have thought long and hard about the man who killed my son David. He will probably be in an Israeli jail for the rest of his life. Make no mistake: Whatever the conditions, being confined in jail with no hope cannot be a picnic. Should I reduce myself to the level of killing another human being – would that bring my beloved David back?

I am told that one of the first reactions I had when the soldiers knocked on my door with the dreadful news of Davids death was to say: You may not kill anyone in the name of my child. I am no saint but cannot and will not be a part of the taking of another life.

Has it occurred to those who advocate for the death penalty to look at history? Take Ireland, for instance. It was only after Prime Minister Tony Blair sent Northern Ireland Secretary Marjorie Mowlam to the Maze prison near Belfast to meet with some of the most hardened criminals, who [perpetrated acts for political reasons and] could easily have been assassinated for their violent crimes, that they persuaded their political representatives to take part in the talks for peace. Some months later these political prisoners were released with the Good Friday agreement.

I have met some of the prisoners who committed terrible crimes and today they are some of the most ardent advocates for peace.

Let us also look at South Africa, where some of the most heinous crimes were committed. These people [who committed politically motivated abuses during Apartheid] could easily have been hanged for their crimes, however in their wisdom the South Africans created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and these same criminals were given amnesty. This is hard to accept, and yet I have met some of these people and they too are working for peace and show remorse for their crimes.

Peace does not equal justice, and as long as Israelis cannot accept this fact and insist on only referring to the narrative of what was done to them – there is no prospect for a lasting peace. I cannot condone the killing of anyone by the state. Basic human rights and dignity supersede any desire for revenge.

Robi Damelin, whose son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002, is an active member of and spokesperson for The Parents Circle — Families Forum.

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