The Israeli government‘s proposal to make it easier for judges to hand out the death penalty for “terrorist activity” has been condemned as “fascist” by Palestinian politicians and rights groups, who fear it will give Israel legal cover to target Palestinians.
A bill to amend existing legislation regulating the use of the death sentence passed its preliminary reading in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Wednesday with backing from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.
Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and member of the Knesset, told Al Jazeera on Friday that while the bill does not specify any group, it is “intended mainly for the Palestinian people”.
“It’s not going to be implemented against Jews who are committing terrorist attacks against Palestinians for sure,” she said, describing the bill’s authors as “extreme right”.
“This is a fascist bill, contributing to an atmosphere of fascism inside Israeli society, which is directed towards Palestinians.”
Under existing laws, Israel’s civilian courts reserve the use of the death penalty for Nazis and Nazi collaborators convicted of committing murder during the Holocaust, while military courts can hand out the sentence if a panel of three judges unanimously agrees to issue the punishment.
The proposed changes will add an additional clause to Israel’s penal law, allowing the death penalty to be used against those convicted of “terrorist activity”, which is defined by the bill as “a deliberate attempt to murder civilians in order to achieve political, national, religious or ideological objectives.”
It will remove the requirement for military court panels to unanimously agree on issuing the punishment, instead requiring a simple majority of two of the three judges.
The death penalty is incompatible with human dignity. It constitutes inhuman & degrading treatment, does not have any proven deterrent effect & allows judicial errors to become irreversible & fatal.
— EU in Israel 🇪🇺🇮🇱 (@EUinIsrael) January 3, 2018
When asked by Palestinian Knesset member Ahmad Tibi on Wednesday about whether the law would apply to Jews who carry out attacks, such as “those who burned the children in Duma”, Netanyahu replied: “In principle, yes.”
Tibi’s reference was to a 2015 arson attack carried out by a Jewish settler in the occupied West Bank village of Duma, which left three Palestinians, including a one-year-old baby, dead and another child seriously wounded.
Dawoud Yusef of the Palestinian rights group Addameer, which advocates for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, cast doubt on Netanyahu’s assertion that the move would also apply to Jews.
“What we’ve seen in the past is that Avigdor Lieberman has been pushing for this as part of his agreement to join Netanyahu’s coalition,” Yusef said, referencing Netanyahu’s defence minister and hard-right coalition partner.
“He’s come out and said that this will only apply to Arabs. When he says Arabs, we assume he means Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.”
‘Biased judicial system’
Lieberman, whose party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) put forward the bill, has in the past advocated the use of the death penalty against “Arab terror”, and in a Facebook post about the bill on Wednesday, the minister declared: “Jewish blood is not cheap.”
Yusef said if the bill ends up passing, it would represent a “slippery slope”.
“We really see this as a pandering to the extreme elements in the Israeli government and we’re not sure in the current climate, where that’s going to end.”
Given Israel's position as occupying power, its biased judicial system against Palestinians, and precedence over the years, such a bill can only be read to target Palestinians who Israel characterises as terrorists, a term whose definition in Israel is so broad and encompassing.
Maha Abdullah of the Palestinian human rights organisation, Al Haq, told Al Jazeera it would further compound Israel’s hold over the occupied territories.
“It should be noted that most Palestinian political detainees are tried by Israeli military courts,” she said.
“Given Israel’s position as occupying power, its biased judicial system against Palestinians, and precedence over the years, such a bill can only be read to target Palestinians who Israel characterises as terrorists, a term whose definition in Israel is so broad and encompassing.”
While Israel has a long history of carrying out targeted assassinations of its opponents, judicial executions are very rare.
In 1948, the Israeli army court-martialed and executed Meir Tobianski after accusations that he had passed on intelligence to the Jordanian army, but the officer was later posthumously exonerated of the charges.
In 1962, the state executed the former SS commander Adolf Eichmann for his part in the Holocaust.
Follow Shafik Mandhai on Twitter: @ShafikFM