Amid clashes and killings that have blazed into a second week, Israel’s cabinet unanimously approved mandatory minimum sentences for Jerusalemites and Israeli citizens who throw stones or launch heftier projectiles such as firebombs and fireworks.
Minors accused of stone-throwing could also face mandatory minimum prison terms, and their parents will be required to pay punitive fines, although Palestinian families say these policies de facto have long been in place.
“We are doing this as an emergency measure and will consider the extent of its implementation; if need be, we will make the law more severe,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned during the meeting. His Cabinet signed off on the new security regulations, which follow Israel’s green light two weeks ago to the use of live-fire against stone-throwers in circumstances where there is no threat to life.
While the prison penalties were set into action today, a spokesperson from the prime minister’s office told me that the lengths of prison sentences would be determined at a later point.
Netanyahu first proposed the measures days before the current wave of stabbing attacks by Palestinians and before fierce clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians took place throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank. While Palestinian protesters are largely unarmed, scores have taken to pelting Israeli forces with rocks. Human Rights Watch has also reported that protesters with firearms fired on Israeli authorities last Tuesday at a demonstration outside of Ramallah.
Since the beginning of October, Israeli forces have killed more than 25 Palestinians and Palestinians killed eight Israelis in attacks.
In late September Netanyahu said he would seek a minimum of 4 years with a maximum of 20 years in prison for adults caught stone-throwing, as well as fines and possible jail time for minors.
Netanyahu has said the prison terms are forms of deterrence against future assaults on Israelis, but Palestinians say it is an escalation that will fuel more upheaval.
“This decision was made to oppress the Palestinian people,” said Rami Khatib, an East Jerusalem resident from the Shuafat neighborhood and father of four children under the age of 16. “We are already living with this situation and so we are not surprised to see something like this pass.”
Earlier this year Khatib’s son Mohammed Khatib, 12, was arrested near Damascus Gate on charges of stone-throwing. Khatib is a photographer and captured the event on camera.
Mohammed spent 12 hours in jail.
“They beat him and he couldn’t use a toilet, or eat anything,” Khatib said of his son’s time incarcerated.
Netanyahu also announced today increased policing across Jerusalem and Israel. Two thousand reservists will be stationed in Jerusalem, along with 16 border police units dispersed throughout the country. Security forces will now work in extended stretches, increased from 12 to 14 hours.
The Israeli government is also threatening actions to penalize the Islamic movement in Israel, and penalize politicians who are accused of inciting Palestinians to clash with Israeli forces. The prime minister said he is mulling legal action against member of Knesset Hanin Zoabi for “wild and deceitful incitement [that] is a clear call to violence.” He told the cabinet, “This is serious and I will not ignore it.”
Protesters–not politicians–say an Intifada has started
For weeks Netanyahu claimed the northern Israel branch of the Islamic Movement cajoled Palestinian youth to hide out inside of the Muslim holy site of al-Asqa Mosque with rocks and pipe bombs and then clash with Israeli forces. Yet Palestinians have been participating in demonstrations by the thousands and many have said that no political party or leader has told them to do so. They cite Israel’s heavy hand in the occupied territories as what brought them to the streets.
“My brother is a martyr, I was in jail, my father was in jail for more than 15 years—he was freed six months ago,” said Mohammed Mubarak, 22, from Jalazone refugee camp outside of Ramallah. Mubarak spent the last week attending protests because, he said, he hopes to see a change. Mubarak said he does not think political divisions run deep in the Palestinian population, and that feuding political parties lack the ability to mobilize Palestinians in revolt against Israel.
Sitting next to Mubarak on a plastic chair, Mohammed Farahat, 23, declared, “I want change in this country.”
The childhood friends were seated at a canteen in the parking lot of Ramallah’s public hospital where injured demonstrators were being treated Saturday night. One of them is Fatah and one is Hamas, but both said that protesters not political parties are doing the organizing.
“We want a third Intifada,” Farahat said, explaining that if the current wave of attacks and nearly round-the-clock protests continue across the West Bank, another uprising could be well on the way.
“The first Intifada was a surprise to everyone, so why shouldn’t a third Intifada be a surprise too,” he said.
Yet Israeli and Palestinian leaders are choosing their words carefully, specifically not calling the current strife an “Intifada.” Netanyahu has stuck to cracking down on “terrorism” and “incitement,” making comparisons to different upticks in violence over the past decade.
Secretary-General of the PLO Saeb Erekat has avoided using the Intifada label too. “Over the past few days, many have wondered whether this is the beginning of a third Intifada. For the Palestinian people, this question is no longer relevant. There has not been a single day, in almost half a century, that we haven’t suffered from the Israeli occupation,” he wrote in an op-ed in Newsweek Europe last Friday.
Yet Palestinian media is airing full throttle comparisons to the first Intifada, one characterized by mass demonstrations, as opposed to the second uprising that was led by armed factions and hallmarked by suicide attacks, and a full scale Israeli incursion into the West Bank.
During commercial breaks, most Palestinian news outlets run images of the current protests juxtaposed with footage from the turbulent late 1980s. The hashtags they use on social media to accompany coverage, “the Intifada has started.”