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Knesset passes sweeping anti-terror reforms into law

New legislation mandates 3-5 year prison terms for supporters of terrorism, up to 15 years to anyone who aids attackers

Palestinian protesters throw stones at Israeli security forces at the Hawara checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, October 11, 2015. (Flash90)
Palestinian protesters throw stones at Israeli security forces at the Hawara checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, October 11, 2015. (Flash90)

The Knesset on Wednesday passed a series of sweeping anti-terror reforms that for the first time enshrine into law penalties for terror attacks.

The far-reaching bill passed with 57 lawmakers in favor and 16 opposed.

The legislation, lauded by backers for enabling Israel to effectively confront terrorism but lambasted by opponents as a setback for civil rights, puts an end to years of deliberation — including 30 Knesset committee meetings stretching over three different governments. It merges two private member bills and three government-sponsored bills and will replace all previous anti-terror laws and regulations, including those from the pre-state British Mandate era.

The legislation defines terrorism as an action or threat committed out of a “political, religious, nationalistic or ideological” motive, which is designed to sow fear or apply pressure on the government or international organizations. The definition requires there to be “serious harm” to people, the public safety and health, property, religious sites — including graves — infrastructure, the economy, or the environment.

The law does not differentiate between Jews and Palestinians or soldiers and civilians.

Palestinian students supporting the Hamas movement take part in a rally during an election campaign for the student council at the Birzeit University, near the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 26, 2016 / AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI
Palestinian students supporting the Hamas movement take part in a rally during an election campaign for the student council at the Birzeit University, near the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 26, 2016 / AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI

The law also outlines procedures to designate terror groups as such, seize their assets, and detention laws for terror suspects.

In terms of sentencing, the general rule outlined in the legislation is that terrorists will receive double the jail time as perpetrators of those crimes without a terror motive, but no more than 25 years. But it also details specific sentences for various terrorism offenses.

Terrorists who carry out a mass casualty attack will receive life sentences. Those who use chemical or radioactive weapons or target “sensitive sites” will similarly get life sentences.

The leader of a terror group that carries out a lethal attack will receive a life sentence with 25 years mandated for a non-deadly attack. Members holding administrative positions in the terror organization will receive 10 years in prison.

Membership in a terror group that carries out an attack will also carry prison time: recruiters get seven years, and accomplices five years, unless they can prove they didn’t know they were working for a terror group. The law doesn’t differentiate between accomplices paid or unpaid, and says if they were suspicious but didn’t investigate whether they were working for a terror group, they will be liable for prosecution.

Publicly identifying with a terror group, including publicizing praise, waving the terror group’s flag, or singing its anthem can carry a three-year sentence, the legislation says.

The law will now specify that for life sentences, there will be no requests for presidential pardons for 15 years and the parole board will recommend the culprits remain jailed for 40 years.

Masked members of Fatah's military branch patrol the streets in 2007. (photo credit: Wagdi Ashtiyeh/Flash90)
Masked members of Fatah’s military branch patrol the streets in 2007. (photo credit: Wagdi Ashtiyeh/Flash90)

The legislation also allows the courts to hear testimony without the defendants present under some circumstances, and permits it to accept some intelligence information as testimony.

Joint (Arab) List MKs slammed the reforms, saying that they undermine basic human rights.

The terror law is “draconian, expands the authority of the security forces and occupation authorities, in order to undermine the right to oppose the crimes of the occupation,” MKs Ahmad Tibi and Osama Sa’adi said in a joint statement. “The law does not define what terror is and represents a stain on the State of Israel’s horrifying law books. Indeed, this is a dark day for the Knesset.”

MK Hanin Zoabi also railed against the “bad” and “immoral law.” The law “itself is an act of terror,” said Zoabi. “Terror against the freedom of speech, against the freedom of assembly, and terror against civilian freedoms.”

The prime minister’s National Security Council pushed the bill’s first reading in the Knesset in September of last year in light of the firebombing attack in the West Bank village of Duma, allegedly committed by Jewish extremists, in which a Palestinian baby and his parents were killed.

Thirty-three Israelis and four non-Israelis have been killed in a wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence since October, during which around 200 Palestinians have also been killed, some two-thirds of them while attacking Israelis, and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.

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