Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, will renew its debate next week over a bill that would seek the death penalty for Palestinians accused of “terrorism,” after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced their support to advance the bill earlier this week.
The bill was introduced in 2017 by Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, and passed its first reading in the Knesset by a vote of 52 to 49 in January 2018.
Despite being stalled since January due to opposition from Israel’s internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, and the Israeli military, Netanyahu told Israeli army radio on Monday that the opposition of the country’s security establishment should not stop the bill from being pushed through.
Lieberman vowed on Tuesday that the bill would be passed into law, posting on Twitter “After over three years of a stubborn struggle, the death penalty for terrorists law will finally be brought to the law committee next Wednesday (November 14), and then for its first reading in the Knesset plenum.”
“We won’t relent or stop until completing the mission,” he continued.
Lieberman and other right-wing politicians have previously argued that the bill would act as a deterrent to Palestinians who commit attacks against Israelis, and in 2017 called for the death penalty to be used against a 19-year-old Palestinian who stabbed and killed three Israeli settlers.
Though Israel abolished the use of capital punishment for murder in civil courts in 1954, it can still be applied in theory to cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, treason and crimes against the Jewish people.
The last execution carried out by Israel took place in 1962, when Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was hanged.
However, under Israeli military law — the system which Palestinians are charged and tried under — capital punishment can be applied to an individual who is convicted of killing an Israeli, though it requires a unanimous ruling from a court with three judges, according to Palestinian prisoners rights group Addameer.
Additionally, the current law as it stands requires that the military prosecutor request the death penalty, which has not been recorded as happening before.
The current bill being proposed would lower the threshold of the current law and require a simple majority amongst three judges. It would also prohibit the commutation of a death sentence, and would not require that the military prosecutor request the death penalty.
According to Addameer, the bill will include an amendment that would also allow Israeli criminal courts to hand down death sentences.
In a statement on Monday Addameer expressed concern that if passed, the bill will result in an increase in cases where the death penalty is sought, adding that it “will represent contravention of Israel’s obligations under international law and will go against accepted international norms.”
“Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 6, the death penalty cannot be handed down in instances where a fair trial has not been guaranteed,” Addameer noted, adding that Israel’s military court system “has been broadly demonstrated to not be meeting the international standards of a fair trial, and therefore cannot hand down the death sentence.”
Israeli military courts have a self-reported conviction rate of 99.74%, and have been termed by rights groups as “kangaroo courts.”
Local rights groups have argued that while the courts were established in order to work in tandem with local institutions, they are instead used as a tool of domination and the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the permanently occupied territory.
There are currently 5,640 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli prisons, of whom 465 are in administrative detention, 53 are female prisoners, 270 are child prisoners, and 50 are under the age of 16.
“This bill represents the continuation of a policy of systematic discrimination against the Palestinian people,” Addameer said on Monday, “In a situation where the occupying power has final say over their rights, the move towards mainstreaming the death penalty represents a grave infraction on the humanity of the Palestinian people.”
Israeli authorities have long been criticized for what right groups have deemed as “collective punishment” policies against Palestinians accused of “terrorist attacks” and their families, which take place in the form of punitive home demolitions and the cancellation of Israeli work permits.
Despite arguing that punitive home demolitions and similar policies of collective punishment deter Palestinians from carrying out attacks on Israeli security personnel and civilians, Israeli NGO B’Tselem has reported that “the state has never presented any figures to prove that the demolitions do, in fact, deter Palestinians from carrying out attacks, nor has it ever been pressed to do so.
“Without proof of efficacy, the utilitarian justification for such an extreme and injurious measure is lost,” the group said.