Lawmakers on Tuesday welcomed the capture of a Palestinian man suspected of carrying out a deadly terror shooting last month, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to bring to justice any who attack Israeli citizens.
Asem Barghouti is believed to have opened fire at a bus stop outside the Givat Assaf outpost near Ramallah in the West Bank on December 13, killing two soldiers stationed there — Sgt. Yosef Cohen and Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef — and seriously injuring a third serviceman and a civilian woman. Barghouti fled the scene after the attack, evading Israeli troops for almost a month before his capture in the village of Abu Shukheidim in the predawn hours of the morning, the Shin Bet security service said.
In a tweet, Netanyahu congratulated the security forces involved in “the capture of the depraved terrorist” and vowed that “Israel’s long arm will reach those who attack our citizens and Israel will bring them to justice.”
Ofir Gendelman, the prime minister’s spokesperson for Arab media, tweeted, “We always get those who kill our people.”
Ilanit Mor Yosef, mother of slain soldier Yovel, told Army Radio that she would campaign for legislation enabling the death sentence for terrorists.
“My son was fighting terrorism and we will continue his war,” she said. “We will not rest until the death penalty for terrorists is passed [into law].”
Asked about Barghouti’s capture, she noted that he had already been imprisoned in Israel in the past.
“He was already in jail and released, so what? Apparently the conditions there were so good that he chose to go back and carry out this attack,” she said.
Barghouti was set free from an Israeli prison in April 2017 after serving an 11-year sentence.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz congratulated security forces and declared in a tweet, “We will bring to justice all of the terrorists and those who send them.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein similarly tweeted, “We will catch and bring to justice all those who seek to drive us out of here and to undermine our existence in the Land of Israel.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett applauded the capture, but called for more stringent measures against terrorists, including controversial home demolitions, ending Palestinian Authority payments to the families of attackers, and the expulsion of attackers’ families from their homes to other areas of the West Bank.
“It is not enough to catch terrorist murderers,” he tweeted. “Their homes must be destroyed quickly, compensation money must be denied to their families, and the family members should be deported.
“As long as that doesn’t happen, the incentives [paid by the PA] will continue to encourage Palestinians to murder Jews,” he continued, and vowed that his recently formed New Right party will “act not just to kill the terrorist mosquitoes, but also to dry up the terrorist swamp.”
The demolition of attackers’ homes has been criticized by human rights groups as a form of collective punishment, and some analysts and officials question its effectiveness as a deterrent measure.
Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, while welcoming Barghouti’s arrest, panned the government for not passing the death sentence legislation previously proposed by his Yisrael Beytenu party. Liberman resigned from the government in November in protest to what he said was the government’s weakness in dealing with terrorism from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
“[Barghouti] is an extremist Islamic activist who belongs to a clan that has been involved in attacks against Israelis for many years,” Liberman wrote. “This is the classic case in which it is lamentable that Yisrael Beytenu’s death penalty for terrorists [bill] was torpedoed by the Likud and coalition leaders.”
According to the Shin Bet, Barghouti also took part in another shooting attack at the entrance to the Ofra settlement on December 9 with his brother, Salih — days before the fatal Givat Assaf shooting — in which they injured seven Israelis, among them a seven-months pregnant woman. The woman’s baby was delivered in an emergency operation, but died days later.
Salih was shot dead on December 12 in Kobar as he attacked Israeli security forces in an attempt to evade arrest, the army said.
The national-religious Jewish Home party, which Bennett headed until he left last month together with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to form the New Right party, is sponsoring a bill that would allow Israel to forcibly relocate the families of Palestinian attackers from their homes to other areas of the West Bank. In December ministers voted to advance the legislation despite opposition from the attorney general.
Yisrael Beytenu’s death sentence bill is currently being reviewed by the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, which has yet to approve it for a first reading in parliament. Liberman has accused the government of deliberately holding up the legislation.
The bill passed a preliminary reading in Knesset in January 2018 despite reservations by some coalition lawmakers. Its progress since then has been repeatedly delayed due to opposition from the security establishment.
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. The Yisrael Beytenu bill aims to make capital punishment easier to apply by reducing the number of judges required to approve it.