A draft law sponsored by Ayelet Shaked would dramatically lower the bar for convicting Palestinians in Jerusalem for throwing stones, and set a penalty of 10 years in prison. The law’s application to West Bank settlers is unlikely.
A key government committee on Sunday passed a bill that would make it much easier to convict people of throwing stones at moving vehicles, and dramatically increase the punishment generally meted out on stone-throwers. The bill, sponsored by newly appointed Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), is effectively a resuscitation of legislation proposed by former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni last November.
Although the bill has yet to pass in the Knesset, being approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation means that it is very likely to become law. The committee decides which bills the governing coalition will put its legislative weight behind.
Shaked proposed two amendments to the existing law governing punishments for stone-throwers, which already allows for a 20-year prison sentence if one throws stones at a moving vehicle with intent to harm or endanger its passengers. Under the new bill, a new offense for the same crime is added, dropping the requirement to show intent to harm or endanger the passengers. The new crime will carry a 10-year prison sentence.
Under the current law, prosecutors have shied away from seeking the 20-year sentence because criminal intent is very difficult to prove. The State generally seeks lesser charges, resulting in prison sentences that range from a few months to two years. The new law will make it much easier to get a conviction.
The law was a response to unrest in Jerusalem last summer and in theory only applies within Israel proper, but given the parallel legal systems in the occupied territories, the proposed law would technically apply to Israeli settlers living in the West Bank as well. However, Israeli police tend to treat incidents of stone-throwing and violence by Israelis towards Palestinians with indifference or incompetence, meaning that the increased prison terms will likely only be handed down to Palestinians.
Irrespective of the passage of Shaked’s bill, “unofficial” punishments for stone-throwing on both sides of the Green Line tend to be blind to age and often collective in nature. In East Jerusalem, entire streets have been doused in foul-smelling ‘skunk’ liquid in response to clashes that included stone-throwing. The army recently closed off the West Bank village of Hizme for two days, while posting signs to let residents know that the closure was intended to induce informing on stone-throwers in their midst.
As for Ayelet Shaked, this bill gives a preview of what can be expected from a Justice Ministry in her grasp: legislation specifically (if not explicitly) targeting Palestinians, and a broadening of the scope under which they can be prosecuted and convicted. In boxing terms, she is “taking the gloves off” — and indeed, why bother softening the blow when you have made your opinion on Palestinians abundantly clear to the world?
In the coalition agreements Prime Minister Netanyahu negotiated in recent months, he built in personal veto power over any bill that comes before the government — to be used in order to put the brakes on legislation that might put Israel on a collision course with the international community. But judging from the fact that this bill made it through the ministerial committee, it appears Shaked will have fairly free reign in her new position.
Shaked is in a position to make life worse for Palestinians and do damage to Israeli-Palestinian society as a whole. Reflecting on her potential appointment earlier this year, Labor MK Nachman Shai lashed out that appointing Shaked to head the Justice Ministry would be “like appointing a pyromaniac to head the fire department,” which is another way of saying that the inmates are running the asylum. Sunday’s bill was just the beginning.