Following a reportedly tense debate on Monday, the Knesset passed a bill that increases the punishment of individuals who target moving vehicles with rocks. Under the new law, which passed by a vote of 69-17, people caught pelting civilians’ cars with stones can be jailed for up to 20 years if it is proven that the thrower’s intent was to cause harm. As well, persons caught throwing stones can also be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison regardless of whether or not harmful intent can be proven.
The amendment also differentiates between stones thrown at civilian and police vehicles. The Jerusalem Post reported: “If a police car is targeted, the punishment would be identical to that for aggravated assault of a police officer, up to 20 years.”
Although the amendment seems like a logical one because proving intent can be difficult, the new law has sparked outrage among left-leaning members of the Knesset because it ignores the political realities that incite people to throw stones in the first place.
According to The Times of Israel, initial plans for a solidified bill were drafted by ex-Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of the centrist Hatnua party. However, the new bill was brought to completion by Livni’s successor, Ayelet Shaked, of the rightist Jewish Home party, who promoted it during the current parliamentary term. Haaretz reports that the wording of the bill was penned by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit, who “examined how the situation in East Jerusalem was being dealt with.” The bill will only apply within the Green Line of Israeli territory and thus will not affect legal proceedings in the West Bank. On Monday, Knesset proceedings marked the third and final reading of the bill, which was made into an Israeli law.
“Justice was made today,” said Shaked after the vote was completed. “For years, terrorists got away from punishment and accountability. Leniency to terrorists stops today. A stone thrower is a terrorist and only an appropriate punishment can serve as deterrence.”
Shaked refers to the difficulties in proving a stone thrower had the intent to cause harm, even if the act had caused evident damage. According to Haaretz:
To convict stone throwers, prosecutors often had to charge them with other violations, such as attacking a policeman or vandalizing a vehicle, but none of these charges expressed the severity of and the unique risks posed by stone-throwing. If the stone thrower acted from a crowd of demonstrators it was often difficult to prove that they deliberately intended to hit the car it damaged.
“It’s absurd that, until now, the burden of proof was on the prosecution,” Shaked commented, when the Knesset’s discussion of the bill began.
However, during the stormy discussion, MK Jamal Zahalka of the Joint Arab List contested that it’s hypocritical to punish a stone thrower without taking into account the injustice that motivated the action. Said Zahalka: “Imagine bringing before a truly just judge the stone thrower as well as those responsible for him throwing the stones. Who would the judge put in jail? The one destroying (the stone thrower’s) home, expropriating lands, killing his brother, or the boy who threw a stone?”
The tactic of stone throwing as a desperate form of protest is most commonly used by Palestinians in the West Bank, who target the cars of Israeli settlers, soldiers and police.
“You are picking on the person who responded to the major injustices,” Zahalka continued. “Those who demolish homes receive medals, but the boy whose anger is justified is imposed with punishments. There is no justice in this law.”
According to Ynet, Zahalka’s party member MK Ahmad Tibi added that regardless of the legislation, there is one rule for the punishment of Jews, and a far more lethal one for the punishment of Arabs. “There is an order in the Army that if soldiers arrive at a place where Jews are protesting and one of the protesters jumps the soldiers, they are not allowed to shoot him because he’s Jewish,” said Tibi. “Under the same circumstances, when it’s Arabs, they shoot to kill. ‘Neutralize,’ they call it. That is why a Palestinian is doomed even if he throws a non-lethal stone.”
The response of Deputy Knesset Speaker Hilik Bar exacerbated the already tense situation. He commented: “It’s all fine for you to criticize IDF soldiers, but just remember that it’s thanks to them that you we can have this discussion here. Just like they’re protecting me, they’re protecting you too in the jungle of the Middle East.”
Bar’s comments infuriated MKS from the Joint Arab List to the extent that the Knesset meeting had to briefly be stopped so that they could calm down.
In Israel, stone throwing might now be far less commonplace, however the root of the problem arguably remains.