Israel's death penalty for terrorists bill passes initial Knesset vote

A discussion and a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on March 1, 2023
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

A majority of the opposition was absent from the vote in protest • Hadash-Ta'al: Death penalty part of Israel's slide toward fascism

A bill to impose the death penalty for terrorists who kill Israeli citizens was approved in a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday.

The vote was 55-9, with much of the opposition absent. The bill will now be assigned to a committee to prepare it for its first reading.

According to the proposed bill, a mandatory death penalty would be imposed for intentional acts of terrorism or indirectly causing the death of an Israeli citizen motivated by racism or hostility to the state and with the objective of harming Israel and uprooting the Jewish people from the country.

The law, which would extend to the West Bank, would be issued by instruction by the defense minister to the IDF. A military court in the relevant region would sentence the terrorist to death, which could be imposed with a simple majority of judges on the bench. It would not be possible to reduce the sentence.

Creating heavy deterrence

According to the bill’s explanatory notes, the law would reduce terrorism by creating a heavy deterrence. The bill also calls for the end to “comfortable conditions” in prisons and an end to terrorists serving half of their prison sentences.

A discussion and a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on March 1, 2023 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

"For years, an absurd situation has prevailed in the State of Israel, in which despicable terrorists who murdered Jews are imprisoned in an Israeli prison for a period of several years, are released in a terrorist release deal or a plea deal, and return to walking among us as human beings," said Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, who originally submitted the bill with an addition by Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer on January 16.

Har-Melech said the bill came about as the result of the national honor being humiliated and after thousands of Israelis were murdered by terrorists. He said the citizens of Israel cried out, “Enough of the national humiliation, enough of the terrorism, enough of the absurd reality in which murderers of Jews continue to live above this land.”

Identical bills were also submitted by MK Sharren Haskel and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir in the last Knesset.

Ben-Gvir cited the 2011 Itamar massacre, in which five family members were murdered in their beds, to validate a need for the bill.

“This is a morally appropriate punishment considering all those who show mercy to the cruel so that the merciful will be cruel,” said Ben-Gvir. “This punishment will not completely eliminate terrorism, but it is a morally appropriate punishment. In a place where terrorism becomes a scourge of the state and where Jews are afraid to walk down the street of a city, in a place where murderous killers come to a synagogue and shoot, we need the death penalty. If we do not enact this law, we will not be moral and humane toward our children and families.”

Creating race-based legal systems

Hadash-Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi said his party opposed the death penalty on principle, and said he was joined in that opposition by religious Jews.

Civil rights organizations like Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, also voiced opposition to the bill, saying it was “designed to bring human rights violations to an extreme, and which is directed exclusively at Palestinians.”

Adalah said the opposition and coalition were creating two legal systems based on race.

“This bill is not only morally wrong, but also contrary to the Basic Laws, and its advancement against the background of the legal reform to which the government is rushing indicates its intentions: the abolition of judicial review in order to establish a regime of Jewish supremacy,” the organization said.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel argued that the death penalty contradicted the values of the State of Israel.

“It is difficult to describe a more serious violation of human rights than the execution of a person by the state. Regardless of the gravity of the offense attributed to the person, there can be no justification for taking his life,” the NGO said.

The Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.

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