A gunman from the Izz ad-Din al- Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, photographed inside an underground tunnel in Gaza, in 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After six years of grueling negotiations, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday passed a major new bill on terrorism.
The bill, which the committee has been debating intensely since the fall, but dates back to 2010, now goes to the full Knesset where it is expected to pass, possibly even next week, with support from the opposition.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Monday praised the committee’s vote, saying Israel is “the tip of the spear in the war on terrorism” and that the vote was a “important step toward making participating in terrorism unprofitable.”
The legislation, which creates a catalog of new offenses to match up with “the modern challenges of terrorism,” passed by a vote of 10-2 with members of the opposition supporting the bill after having opposed earlier versions.
Former justice minister and opposition MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) praised the bill, stating it would “give new and better tools to Israel to fight terrorism” and committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky said it strikes the right balance between strengthening tools for fighting terrorism and human rights.
For the first time, the bill includes the specific crime of digging attack tunnels. It also makes offenses like being a terrorist mastermind, even if the person did not participate in his minions’ terrorist acts, carry a life sentence.
Those using biological and chemical weapons for terrorist purposes can also get a life sentence.
Charity groups which indirectly but substantially contribute to terrorist groups can be declared illegal and many categories of those involved in such groups can be sent to prison by association. Here, the concept is to better catch terrorism financing by cutting through straw-man companies which might serve dual legal and illegal purposes.
Connected to those efforts, the defense minister can now seize financial assets even before trial, if he finds the assets relate to terrorism, much the same way he can issue administrative detention orders. Until now assets could only be seized at the indictment and conviction stages.
Also, those funding terrorists can be fined up to 20 times the amount which they were convicted of providing to terrorist groups.
This radical change recognizes that today’s terrorists may sometimes be more deterred by losing money than by prison sentences.
Finally, the bill makes it harder for hardcore terrorists to get parole, with terrorists who get life terms eligible to seek parole only after 15 years, and able to leave prison only after 40 years in jail.
At the same time, the bill does not close-off future Gilad Schalit type prisoner exchanges.
Despite the support of some members of the opposition, MKs Osama Saadi (Joint List) and Isawi Frej (Meretz) opposed the bill on the grounds that it tries to discriminate against Israeli Arabs and turn their free speech and protest against the occupation into terrorism.
Many human rights groups also still have reservations.
Dr. Amir Fuchs, head of Israel Democracy Institute’s Defending Democratic Values Program, noted a number of issues.
He said that the definitions of charity and other side groups that might indirectly assist terrorist groups is too wide.
Even as he recognized that many in these groups support terrorism or serve as recruiting grounds for terrorists, he asked rhetorically does every teacher or medical professional who might be connected to a charity group assist terrorism? He also asked whether all persons in such side groups should be punished at the same severe level regardless of their level of active or passive participation.
He questioned allowing hearsay into terrorism trials as a broad rule. He said he understands that sometimes it is difficult to get a former prisoner, who is then released to the Palestinian Authority, to testify in an Israeli court.
Fuchs also flagged empowering the defense minister to seize assets pre-indictment as an area potentially open for abuse and lack of oversight.
He did note that several more problematic issues had been removed to make the bill more balanced.
Fuchs noted that the original version of the bill created a terrorist offense related to aiding a terrorist negligently, which could have landed people in prison even if they did not know they were aiding terrorists – only because they should have known.
In addition, he said a requirement of proving intent was inserted before people can be arrested for identifying with terrorist groups by being present at a rally, publishing a facebook statement or holding a Hamas flag.