Israeli lawmakers approve preliminary bill on death penalty for terrorists

January 4, 2018 Agencies
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Israeli lawmakers yesterday approved a preliminary piece of legislation easing the threshold for military courts to carry out executions of convicted terrorists.

In July 2017, the ZAKA volunteer emergency response group cleans up the scene of the deadly Palestinian terror attack at the Salomon family home in Halamish. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday cited that attack as an example of a situation that would merit the death penalty for terrorists. Credit: Yehezkiel Itkin/ZAKA.

The bill was approved in a 52-49 vote in its preliminary reading by the Knesset. Currently, military courts have the power to carry out executions only if a panel of three military judges passes a sentence unanimously. The new bill would lower that requirement to a majority verdict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supports the death penalty in “extreme situations,” pointing to the July 2017 Halamish terror attack, in which three members of an Israeli family were fatally stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist as they gathered around the table for a festive Shabbat meal.

“I’ve seen some shocking things in my life, but I was shocked,” Netanyahu said regarding that attack. “There are extreme cases, where people commit terrible crimes and don’t deserve to live. We’re changing the law for these situations.”

The bill was introduced by Member of Knesset Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu), who said lawmakers have a “moral obligation to the people of Israel.”

“When terrorists sitting in Israeli prisons end up going free [in prisoner exchanges], I think the most moral thing is for [terrorists] to get the death penalty,” he said.

The bill sharply divided Netanyahu’s coalition, with haredi parties such as United Torah Judaism asking for the vote to be postponed in order to consult with their rabbis about the legislation. While Jewish law technically allows for the death penalty, the standard for carrying out the punishment is nearly impossible.

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) also opposed the bill.

“This is only about political considerations. The ministers need to ask: How will this help Israeli security? Will it deter? What will it do to our Jewish brothers in Arab countries? Analyze the psychology of those who commit acts of terrorism,” Herzog said.

Israel has only carried out the death penalty twice since the establishment of the state in 1948. Meir Tobianski, who was accused of treason during Israel’s War of Independence, was executed by a firing squad in 1948; he was posthumously exonerated. In 1961, an Israeli civilian court sentenced former Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann to death by hanging, and he was executed in 1962.

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