Israeli bill advocating death sentence in ‘terror’ cases passes first reading in Knesset

The bill mandates the death penalty in cases where an Israeli citizen is killed in a ‘terrorist act’ by a Palestinian, but will not apply to an Israeli citizen committing the same crime against a Palestinian. Israel classifies resistance acts against its occupation as terrorism

March 02, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Discriminatory death penalty law Israel
Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)(Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Wednesday, March 1, the Israeli parliament approved, in its preliminary reading, a bill to institute the use of the death penalty in ‘terror’ cases. The bill was passed despite widespread concerns raised by human rights groups and the UN.  

The private member’s bill, backed by the government, received 55 votes in favor and nine against in the 120-member legislature. A majority of the opposition boycotted the proceedings. It will now undergo a series of readings in the Knesset.

The bill says that that anyone who “intentionally or out of indifference causes the death of an Israeli citizen when the act is carried out from a racist motive or hate to a certain public… and with the purpose of harming the State of Israel and the rebirth of the Jewish people in its homeland” must be given a death sentence, the Jerusalem Post reported.

As per the Times of Israel, the bill is only applicable to Palestinians and “would not apply to an Israeli who killed a Palestinian.” According to Israeli law, all acts of resistance carried out by Palestinians in the occupied territories are acts of terrorism.   

The bill was one of the central promises made by Itamar Ben-Gvir, an extremist politician and Israel’s Minister of National Security in Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-right government, during his election campaign last year. 

While there already was a provision for the death penalty in Israeli law, it has only reportedly been used twice: once against Nazi official Adolf Eichmann, and once against a military officer court-martialed by the IDF in 1948 for treason. In the second case, the conviction was posthumously reversed.

Bill raises widespread concerns 

The bill has raised concerns from various corners of the world. Human rights groups such as Adalah and Amnesty International Israel and countries such as Germany have already formally opposed the law.  

A group of UN experts expressed their concerns last month. “The reinstatement of the death penalty is a deeply retrogressive step. More so when, on the face of it, the punishment will apply against minorities living within the State or those who live under the 55-year military occupation and rule,” they said. 

Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, who was part of the group of experts, noted that existing counter-terrorism laws in Israel are arbitrarily applied and often violate the fundamental guarantees of international humanitarian and human rights law, and that the “proposed law merely exacerbates these challenges.” They claimed that the proposed bill raises “due process and fair trial challenges” and appears discriminatory, and asked that the Israeli government abandon it.  

Reacting to the bill, Palestinian resistance movement Hamas described it as a “racist and criminal move” that “[reflected] the Israeli occupation government’s fascist tendencies.” It also underlined that the move “[represented] an extension of the summary executions [that are] carried out by the Israeli occupation army in cold blood under the nose of the whole world,” Press TV reported.   

The Palestinian Authority had issued a statement last month condemning Israel’s “barbaric re-enactment of the death penalty as a pretext to legitimize its annexation and entrench its apartheid regime.”

This bill is the second law passed by the Netanyahu government this year that has raised concerns of discrimination and apartheid. In February, the Knesset approved a law that allows for the removal of citizenship rights and residency permits of Palestinians in Israel if they are convicted of acts of ‘terrorism.’ 

Human rights groups have also drawn attention to the high rate of “extra-judicial” killings of Palestinians carried out by the Israeli security forces. At least 65 Palestinians have already been killed by the Israeli forces in the first two months of the current year.