Tensions sparked in the Knesset Monday night after lawmakers passed a law that would penalize stone-throwers with up to 20 years in prison.
A committee headed by cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit of the right-wing Jewish Home party proposed the law following a series of Palestinian protests in East Jerusalem last year, Haaretz reports. After a heated debate, Israel's parliament voted 69 to 17 to increase existing punishments.
"Tolerance toward terrorists ends today. A stone-thrower is a terrorist and only a fitting punishment can serve as a deterrent and just punishment," Israel's Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party said in a statement.
In the past, if stone throwing didn’t cause any injuries, prosecutors gave sentences of up to three months in jail. Recent conflicts increased support for lengthier sentences.
Under existing laws, police and court officials can only punish stone-throwers if they can prove a thrower acted with "malicious intent," reports Haaretz. Prosecutors often end up charging throwers with other violations, such as attacking a policeman or vandalizing a vehicle, for their actions to merit an arrest.
But with this legislation, that may no longer be necessary.
Regardless of intent, "throwing of a stone or any other object at a vehicle in motion in a manner liable to endanger the passengers in the vehicle or people in the vicinity" can lead to a maximum sentence of 10 years.
If prosecutors can prove that a thrower acted with the intent to "seriously harm" targets, the sentence can reach up to 20 years.
Those who throw stones at a "policeman or at a police vehicle, with the intent to interfere with the policeman’s performance of his duties or to prevent him from performing them," can face up to five years in prison.
The Knesset debate took a brief break leading up to the decision after tempers flared among the bill’s opponents. The Joint List, an Arab-Israeli party, rejected the bill claiming it is a form of oppression against Palestinians. The law "stands in contradiction to criminal law and the basic values protecting human rights,” the party said.
The new law is part of a broader pattern of discriminating against Palestinians, said Joint List lawmakers.
"There’s a military order that if soldiers come to an area where Jews are demonstrating and one of the demonstrators attacks a soldier, it’s forbidden to shoot him because he’s a Jew," said Arab Knesset member Ahmed Tibi. "Under the same circumstances when it’s Arabs they shoot to kill, they call it neutralizing. There are instances in which Jews have attacked officers and weren’t even arrested," Mr. Tibi added.
Israel indicts about 1,000 people a year for stone throwing, Al Jazeera reports.
Will tougher sentences deter young stone-throwers? Probably not, says Barak Medina, professor of law at Hebrew University. "Many young people who throw stones are unaware of the law and are not often rational about their actions,” Prof. Medina told International Business Times.
“I don't think the justice system should be giving up on the rights of the accused just because of panic and concern,” he added.
Last summer, stone-throwing riots broke out across east Jerusalem after Jewish extremists seized and burned a young Palestinian alive to avenge the killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.
Palestinian youths popularized the act as a common form of defense against Israeli soldiers during the first Intifada, or uprising, in the late 1980s.