Ministers toughen measures against stone-throwers

Cabinet approves use of .22 Ruger sniper rifles against rioters who endanger Israelis, backs a minimum four-year prison sentence

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 20, 2015. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 20, 2015. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL/FLASH90)

The security cabinet on Thursday voted unanimously in favor of a series of proposed measures aimed at combating stone-throwing, including mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of throwing rocks and firebombs, and an easing of the rules governing police use of live fire in rock-throwing incidents.

The cabinet agreed to back legislation to allow live fire in any case in which lives are endangered; use of .22 Ruger sniper rifles against rock throwers; a minimum four-year prison sentence for rock throwers, including imprisonment and fines for minors aged 14-18; the cancellation of welfare benefits for minors in prison; and an evaluation of fining parents of convicted children aged 12-14.

“The security cabinet has decided to authorize police to use live ammunition against people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails when the life of a third person is threatened and no longer only when a police officer is threatened,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Following the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that “In Israel, these murderous objects won’t be thrown unanswered and without prevention.”

The cabinet vote came despite opposition by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who, at a meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday, suggested instituting minimum sentences for such offenses through a one-year trial period. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was said to be looking for a three-year provision.

Weinstein also objected to relaxing the rules of engagement, arguing that his recent authorization of the use in East Jerusalem of the Ruger rifle, a .22 caliber firearm with a capacity to neutralize without being as potentially deadly as heavier weapons, was a sufficient measure for the moment.

Both Netanyahu and Shaked have brushed off Weinstein’s opposition, with the PM saying Sunday that “the government is sovereign and it decides, even if it is contrary to the position of the judiciary.

“The prime minister is determined to have his plan passed in the cabinet and thereafter in quick legislation,” the Prime Minister’s Office said on Wednesday, as quoted in Haaretz.

Shaked said it was the attorney general’s “right and his duty is to give his opinion. At the end of the day, if something is not unconstitutional, [it is] the cabinet [that] decides whether to legislate the law or not.

“On the legislative level, the decision is ours — the cabinet ministers’,” Shaked added on Monday, noting that the law already provides for minimum sentences for sex offenses and assaults on police officers.

Netanyahu has been pushing for the legislative changes amid a surge in rock-throwing and firebomb attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank in recent weeks, including one that proved fatal last Sunday night when an Israeli driver was killed crashing his car into a pole after coming under attack by rock-throwers in Jerusalem.

At an emergency meeting last Tuesday, Netanyahu announced he would seek to toughen punishments for such attacks. Subsequent meetings turned up additional proposed measures. At the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu ordered a review of the rules of engagement used by police officers and was considering allowing police to use live fire in certain circumstances when civilian lives are in danger.

Permission would be granted “in very limited instances, with lots of restrictions,” Israel’s Channel 2 said Saturday. It would likely be granted during incidents considered “grassroots terror” or lone-wolf attacks, as opposed to during mass demonstrations, the report said, noting nonetheless that this would represent a marked departure from current procedures in East Jerusalem and Israel.

Netanyahu was seeking a minimum sentence for stone throwers of 4-5 years in prison, while those caught throwing firebombs would serve no less than 10 years behind bars. Parents of minors caught throwing stones could be fined NIS 100,000 ($26,000) under the new laws.

Shaked, meanwhile, was seeking to impose fines on the parents of children under the age of 12 of NIS 10,000-20,000 ($2,500-$5,000), which would be returned if the children do not repeat the crime within a year.

Under current Israeli law, children below the age of 12 cannot be held accountable for crimes.

AFP contributed to this report.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed