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High Court overturns law halting benefits for parents of teen security prisoners

In a 5-4 ruling, justices argue that rarely used legislation infringes on principle of equal rights; Knesset given one year to fix legislation

Illustrative: Palestinian youth throw stones at Israeli police during a clash in East Jerusalem, in July 2014. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Illustrative: Palestinian youth throw stones at Israeli police during a clash in East Jerusalem, in July 2014. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

The High Court ruled on Thursday that a 2015 law that stripped the parents of a minor Israeli imprisoned for security offenses of their welfare benefits is illegal.

In a 5-4 decision, Justices Esther Hayut, Hanan Melcer, Uzi Vogelman, Daphne Barak-Erez and Anat Baron ruled that “although deterrence from committing security offenses is important, including stone throwing, the law disproportionately violates equal rights.”

The measure was passed in 2015 as part of a series of moves intended to significantly beef up punishments for rock-throwers, in response to a deadly attack on a driver in Jerusalem. The law, which was mostly aimed at Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, also loosened live fire rules for law enforcement and imposed a four-year minimum sentence for adult rock throwers, as well as imprisonment and fines for those 14-17.

According to the ruling, the move to freeze benefits, which only affected offenders with Israeli parents, has not been put into practice for several years — and has only ever been utilized on 10 occasions.

“Using the criterion of a criminal conviction in relation to social benefits amounts to a violation of equal rights since it involves ‘labeling,'” wrote Baron in the ruling.

In the minority opinion, Justices Neal Hendel, Yitzhak Amit, Noam Sohlberg and David Mintz argued that the law does not infringe on equal rights. Sohlberg noted that there is no distinction in the legislation between Jews and Arabs.

Sawsan Zahar, an attorney with Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which filed the petition, said the law is illegal since it “creates one law for Palestinian minor prisoners and another law for minor prisoners in [other] criminal proceedings.”

It “is contrary to the most basic principles of criminal law,” Zahar told Haaretz.

The judges gave legislators a year to fix or scrap the law, noting that new legislation on the issue had already been planned.

During that time period, the ability of the National Insurance Institute to strip any such parents of their welfare benefits will be suspended.

Mintz, one of the dissenting judges, claimed that parents actually saved more money than they would receive, since their kids were imprisoned wards of the state.

“Therefore the harm caused to them is negligible,” he wrote.

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