Israel’s ministerial committee for legislation has voted to advance a bill proposed by the Otzma Yehudit party led by extreme far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. If passed into legislation, Israel will have a legal fig-leaf to execute Palestinian prisoners.
The introduction of capital punishment for Palestinian prisoners was a condition for Ben-Gvir agreeing last November to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government. It was also one of the extremist’s election campaign promises appealing to far-right Jewish voters.
Explaining the bill, Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech said that anyone who “intentionally or out of indifference causes the death of an Israeli citizen when the act is carried out from a racist motive or hate to a certain public… and with the purpose of harming the State of Israel and the rebirth of the Jewish people in its homeland” should face a death sentence.The far-right MK went further by saying that if the killing of an Israeli took place in the occupied West Bank, the punishment would apply in military courts even if the verdict is not unanimous. He stressed that the punishment would not be subject to appeal after it is finalised in a regional court.
“This is a moral law, and fair, which exists in the largest democracy in the world and all the more so in a country where a wave of terrorism is [targeting] Israeli citizens,” said Ben-Gvir and Netanyahu in a joint statement. They added that the approval of the bill was a “symbolic” step taken on the same day that two Israeli soldiers were killed, allegedly by a Palestinian resistance fighter. “On this difficult day, when two Israeli citizens are murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack, there is nothing more symbolic than passing the ‘death penalty for terrorists law’.”
According to Netanyahu, this is part of fighting Palestinian resistance — which he describes as “terrorism” even though it is legitimate in international law — and reinforcing the Jewish people in the land of historic Palestine. “We will continue taking action with all methods, on security in operational missions and in legislation, to deter terrorists and safeguard Israel’s security. Our answer to terrorism is to strike terrorism forcefully and deepen our roots in our land.”
Given the legitimacy of resistance against a military occupation — in Israel’s case, a particularly brutal occupation — introducing a law which targets Palestinian resistance fighters is surely yet another violation of international law by the occupation state. Netanyahu’s claim about “our roots in our land”, of course, exposes the fact that he pays no regard to international laws and conventions, and does not accept that Israel is built on stolen Palestinian land.
Israel’s Attorney-General, Gali Baharav-Miara, said last week that there was a “legal impediment” in the procedures for dealing with this new law. It does not, she said, meet constitutional requirements.
Ben-Gvir and Netanyahu might claim that the law is “moral” and “fair”, but human rights groups take the opposite view. Amnesty International, for example, condemned the passing of the bill, and stressed that the death sentence is “cruel, inhumane and humiliating.”
Indeed, Amnesty highlighted a very dark aspect of the proposed law. “The wording of the law, which gives the death penalty to people who attacked civilians ‘with the purpose of harming the State of Israel and the rebirth of the Jewish people in its homeland,’ clarifies that here is an attempt to create a distinction in the law on a nationalist-ethnic-political basis between attackers of citizens, and thus makes the law an apartheid law, which is a crime against humanity.”
Israel has been described as fulfilling the legal definition of an apartheid state by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem. Earlier this week, Haaretz newspaper published an editorial under the headline, “Israel’s cabinet just advanced full-fledged Apartheid in the West Bank”. The new bill has simply added an extra dimension to Israeli apartheid; Israel is clearly a rogue state.
Moreover, since when does Israel need a law to execute Palestinians, either in prison or on the streets and in their homes? The rogue occupation state has been killing Palestinians for years.
Palestinian prisoner Ahmad Abu Ali, 48, for example, was pronounced dead in Israel’s Soroka Hospital on 10 February. According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS), he had been suffering from chronic heart problems and diabetes. PPS spokeswoman Amany Sarahneh said that Abu Ali was “subject to slow death” by the Israeli Prison Services. The Palestinian Authority’s Commission of Detainees’ and Ex-Detainees’ Affairs condemned “the killing” of Abu Ali, who was “intentionally left without proper medical care until he died.”
Without the need for new laws, this kind of death penalty has been in place inside Israeli prisons since the early days of the occupation state’s existence. The PA commission pointed out that at least 235 Palestinians have been killed in such ways in Israeli prisons since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank started in 1967.
The extrajudicial execution of Palestinians in broad daylight is, of course, so common that it is rarely newsworthy for the mainstream media. Israeli security forces seem to be incapable of disarming and arresting Palestinians and making sure that due legal process is followed. They shoot to kill, and if that doesn’t work, they block ambulances and first aiders, and let their victims bleed to death. What’s more, those responsible are often hailed as heroes.
In Huwara at the weekend, illegal Jewish settlers went on the rampage and set fire to Palestinian homes and cars, killing a Palestinian man and wounding 100 other people. Israeli MKs and ministers, and settler officials have called for whole Palestinian villages to be “wiped out”, or “closed and burnt”. The settler rampage was described by a number of Israelis as a “pogrom”, including hundreds of protesters in Tel Aviv; veteran journalist Gideon Levy; and one of Israel’s highest-ranking generals, Major General Yehuda Fuchs.
Sadly, there will no robust international response to Israel’s latest move towards fascism, because there’s nothing new about Israel executing Palestinians. Ask Shireen Abu Akleh’s family; ask Muhammad Al-Durrah’s family; or ask Ahmed Dawabsha, whose family was burnt to death by illegal settlers. Israel is a rogue state.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.