Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Friday he would pursue the death penalty for a Palestinian suspected of killing two soldiers and seriously injuring two others in a West Bank car-ramming attack earlier in the day.
“We will seek the death penalty for the terrorist, the destruction of his house and punishment for anyone who cooperated [with him],” Liberman said.
Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party has long supported passing legislation allowing the death penalty for convicted terrorists and made the issue a central plank of its 2015 election campaign.
A bill being pushed by the party that would apply to those convicted of fatal acts of terrorism passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset in January.
Although the death penalty formally exists in Israeli law, it has only ever been used once — in 1962 in the case of Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust. It is technically allowed in cases of high treason, as well as in certain circumstances under the military law that applies within the IDF and in the West Bank, but is not implemented.
Liberman also dismissed the notion of “lone wolf” terrorism, carried out in the spur of the moment by individuals with no formal ties to terror groups. He said the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying Palestinian terrorists and their families was directly responsible for such attacks. “We will stop them,” he said.
Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, also blamed what he called the PA’s “pay-to-slay” policy for the attack.
“As long as the Palestinian Authority continues to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to terrorists who kill Israelis, we will continue to see such heinous attacks,” he said in a statement.
“The international community must condemn this hateful act of terror and demand that the Palestinian leadership finally put an end to the despicable practice of ‘pay-to-slay.’”
The attack was also condemned by Germany which sent its condolences to the families of the victims and said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be solved by force.
The IDF confirmed that the incident was a terror attack. It said the troops were hit while standing near a military guard post Friday afternoon. One of the victims was pronounced dead at the scene. A second died a short time later, after attempts to save his life failed.
One of the injured soldiers suffered severe head trauma and was fighting for his life. A second soldier was in serious condition.
The driver was injured and taken to hospital, where he will be questioned, the army said. He was identified as Ala Qabha, 26, of the village of Barta’a in the northern West Bank. A second Palestinian man was treated by the Palestinian Red Crescent medical service. It was not immediately clear how he was involved.
Haaretz reported that Qabha was released from Israeli prison in April of last year after completing a 17-month sentence, though there were no immediate details on his crime. According to Hadashot news he was incarcerated for security-related activities.
Palestinian media reported that military forces searched the Qabha family’s home in Barta’a and questioned family members following the attack. Qabha’s brother was arrested, and the Israeli work permits of several family members were revoked.
Hamas welcomed the attack, saying it “proves our people’s readiness to continue the Jerusalem intifada.” The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group also said it “commends” the attack and “calls for further attacks against the Zionist occupation. Palestinian groups had called for Friday to be a “day of rage,” in response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.
Meanwhile Qabha’s family claimed the incident was an accident and not an attack, with one relative telling Haaretz that the young man was a painter, and had been on his way home from Jenin after buying supplies. “He’s not politically affiliated and doesn’t belong to any organization,” he said.