Government ministers voted to advance legislation that would stiffen penalties against rioters convicted of hurling stones and other dangerous objects at vehicles Sunday.
The amendment to the penal code would impose a jail sentence of up to 20 years on rock throwers, as officials grapple with a wave of unrest in some of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods.
The move came as police said there were two rock throwing attacks in East Jerusalem Sunday, one directed at a bus on Suleiman Street near the Old City and another in East Talpiot, on the city’s southern edge.
Two minors were arrested in the latter incident.
To make the change to the penal code, ministers at the government’s weekly cabinet meeting approved an amendment allowing lawmakers to heavily increase the punishment for rock throwers.
Currently, convicted stone throwers generally receive only up to 2 years’ jail time.
Rock-throwing by Palestinians protesting settler activity is a frequent occurrence on West Bank roads, and there has been a spate of incidents in East Jerusalem, including against the light rail and public buses, over the past several weeks as violence has roiled the capital.
Drivers hit by rocks often suffer light injuries, though there have been several cases of serious injuries and even deaths from the attacks.
The legislation would not cover the West Bank, where Israel’s military effectively rules.
In a cabinet meeting Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged lawmakers to advance legislation on the matter, and asserted that aggressive judiciary action was necessary in order to quell “terrorist” activities in the capital.
“Israel is taking vigorous action against terrorists and those who throw stones, fire bombs and fireworks,” Netanyahu said. “We will also pass stronger legislation on the issue. All of this is in order to restore quiet and security throughout Jerusalem. I have ordered that massive reinforcements be brought in [to Jerusalem] and that additional means be used in order to ensure law and order in Israel’s capital.”
Several violent clashes occurred in the capital Saturday night between security forces and Palestinian protesters: A small improvised bomb was hurled at police forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat, with no casualties reported; fireworks were launched at policemen in the Old City and in Wadi Joz; and a 13-year-old Arab teen attacked a Jewish man near the Old City’s Damascus Gate, and was arrested.
Police reopened the al-Aqsa Mosque to Muslim worshipers on Friday, after the contested site had been shuttered following an assassination attempt against Yehudah Glick, a staunch advocate of Jewish right to prayer on the Temple Mount.
Israel has barred Jews from praying on the mount since capturing the Old City in the 1967 war, and Netanyahu has repeated several times in recent days that he does not intend to change the status quo.
Labor Party MK Eitan Cabel said Saturday that Israel should transfer control of the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya and Beit Hanina to the Palestinian Authority, but keep the capital united. Speaking at a cultural event in northern Israel, Cabel, who heads the opposition’s Labor’s Knesset faction, said restive Palestinian areas of Jerusalem should be handed over to PA control in the long term.
Jerusalem has been plagued by weeks of unrest, with daily riots in the predominantly Arab neighborhoods of Silwan, Shuafat, and Wadi Joz. Minor clashes erupted in the West Bank Friday after weekly Muslim prayers, while security forces deployed heavily around Jerusalem’s flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque in the Temple Mount compound.
Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.