Intelligence and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said Tuesday that convicted Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti should have been given the death penalty instead of life imprisonment for orchestrating murders during the second intifada. Barghouti is currently leading a hunger strike to improve conditions for security prisoners.
Reigniting a longstanding debate over punishment for Palestinian terrorists, Katz tweeted Monday night that carrying out the death penalty would have prevented the hunger strike.
“When a despicable murderer like Barghouti protests in prison for improved conditions, while the relatives of those he murdered are still in pain, there is only one solution — death penalty for terrorists,” Katz wrote.
Speaking to 103.fm radio Tuesday, Katz said that the current law allows for the death penalty to be applied to convicted terrorists, but prosecutors have consistently refrained from seeking the punishment.
On Monday, some 1,100 prisoners began a mass hunger strike called by Barghouti. The strike was scheduled to coincide with Palestinian “Prisoners Day,” an annual event held in solidarity with the more than 6,000 Palestinian security prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails.
Barghouti is the former leader of the Tanzim armed wing of Fatah and the founder of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Fatah terror group. He was convicted in 2004 on five counts of murder and one attempted murder, and was implicated in and held responsible for four other terror attacks. He is serving five life terms for the murders, and an additional 40 years for attempted murder.
Israel moved swiftly to try to foil the mass Palestinian prisoner hunger strike, transferring Barghouti to a different prison and putting him in solitary confinement.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan vowed on Tuesday not to negotiate with the hundreds of hunger-striking Palestinian detainees.
“They are terrorists and incarcerated murderers who are getting what they deserve and we have no reason to negotiate with them,” Erdan told Army Radio. He said Barghouti had been placed in solitary confinement because calling for the hunger strike was against prison rules.
“This is unacceptable situation,” Katz said. “Of course Barghouti should have been given the death penalty but instead of being given what he deserves, he is protesting for better conditions.”
Even though capital punishment is technically legal in Israel, it has only been practiced once, in 1962, when high-ranking Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death for his role in orchestrating the Holocaust.
In 2015, the Knesset voted down a bill proposed by the Yisrael Beytenu party that would have enabled judges to sentence a terrorist to death, with Netanyahu ordering lawmakers from his Likud party to oppose the bill, saying it needed further examination from a legal perspective.
The measure, proposed by then-Yisrael Beytenu MK Sharon Gal, would have made it easier for military and district courts to sentence to death those convicted of murder with nationalist motives.
The bill had the support of a number of Likud lawmakers. At the time, however, then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein indicated he would block the legislation.
The death penalty bill was a key election promise from now-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman ahead of the 2015 national elections, but he dropped a demand to renew the failed legislative effort during negotiations that led his Yisrael Beytenu into the coalition in May 2016.
A spokesperson for Katz declined to say whether the minister would seek to renew the shelved legislation.