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PM vows tougher penalties for rioters, despite judicial opposition

Attorney general comes out against mandatory minimum sentences, change in rules on use of live fire against stone-throwers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein (left to right) at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 2014. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein (left to right) at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 2014. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Sunday to tighten punishments for Palestinian rioters, dismissing Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s more cautious approach and declaring that the government would set policy despite opposition from the judiciary.

During a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem earlier Sunday to discuss Israel’s response to the recent flare-up of violence in the capital, Weinstein expressed his opposition to a proposal to relax the rules governing police use of live fire against Palestinians throwing stones or firebombs in Jerusalem and the West Bank. He did however agree to review the procedures, Army Radio reported.

In a closed-door conversation after the meeting, Netanyahu said he is determined to implement the changes — including minimum sentences for anyone throwing stones and petrol bombs, easing the rules of engagement for the security forces, and heavy fines for parents of minors who throw stones, Israel’s NRG website reported.

“The government is sovereign and it decides, even if it is contrary to the position of the judiciary,” the prime minister said.

The attorney general also came out against proposed legislation to enforce mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of throwing rocks or firebombs at police, civilians or cars in Jerusalem and across the West Bank — key legislative changes sought by Netanyahu as part of a crackdown announced at an emergency meeting last Tuesday.

Instead, he suggested instituting minimum sentences for such offenses through a one-year temporary provision.

Weinstein did authorize 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, and indicated at the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office that it was a sufficient measure for the moment.

Still image taken from a video released by the Israel Police Spokesman apparently showing Palestinians gearing up for a confrontation on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Sunday, September 13, 2015. (screen capture: Israel Police)
Still image taken from a video released by the Israel Police Spokesman apparently showing Palestinians gearing up for a confrontation on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Sunday, September 13, 2015. (screen capture: Israel Police)

According to the Haaretz daily, Weinstein’s opposition to harsher penalties prompted Netanyahu to soften his tone, and issue a statement Sunday declaring that he was “leaning toward the idea raised in the meeting to stiffen penalties – setting mandatory minimum penalties for stone-throwers by means of a temporary provision that would be in place for a year at the first stage.”

“A temporary provision for a few years will be studied,” read the statement.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is said to be looking for a three-year provision. The matter is set to be finalized at a meeting Netanyahu has convened for Thursday.

At Sunday’s meeting, Netanyahu ordered a review of the rules of engagement used by police officers. He is said to be 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.

Border Police officers arrest a Palestinian rioter after clashes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber on September 18, 2015 that left three policemen and one protester wounded. (Israel Police)
Border Police officers arrest a Palestinian rioter after clashes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber on September 18, 2015 that left three policemen and one protester wounded. (Israel Police)

Netanyahu said Sunday that revoking social security benefits for parents of minors caught offending would be an “appropriate deterrent response” to the phenomenon.

“There is a new reality on the ground and the punishment must correspond [with the crime],” Netanyahu said after the meeting with Weinstein on Sunday, Army Radio reported.

The crackdown comes after a week of daily violence on the Temple Mount, around Jerusalem and in the West Bank. The unrest on the Temple Mount began Sunday, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, after police, acting on information from the Shin Bet security service, raided the Temple Mount and found pipe bombs and other improvised weapons, apparently prepared in advance for an organized riot.

So far, police have used rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons and other non-lethal measures to quell riots in Jerusalem or to combat incidents where Palestinians throw rocks at Israeli forces, pedestrians or cars.

After an emergency meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office at the end of Rosh Hashanah on Tuesday, Netanyahu announced he would seek new measures to combat the violence.

The emergency meeting came after rock-throwing attack led to a fatal car crash in Jerusalem on Sunday night, killing driver Alexander Levlovitz.

According to reports, 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.

 

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