Palestinian prisoners on a bus before release [file] 311 (R).
(photo credit: Yannis Behrakis / Reuters)
A very curious bill successfully jumped its first legislative hurdle last week.
Should it become law, it will halve the National Insurance Institute benefits
that terrorists may collect from the state against which they
This legislation – sponsored by Israel Beiteinu MKs David Rotem
and Robert Ilatov and already approved ahead of its first reading by the Knesset
Welfare Committee – would apply to terrorists who hold Israeli citizenship or
blue ID cards (as in east Jerusalem). It would pertain only to terrorists who
were duly convicted and sentenced to at least 10 years behind bars.
above limitations are already the product of extensive compromises. Initially,
the bill’s framers were intent on denying all convicted terrorists any state
payments whatsoever – among them pension, unemployment, bankruptcy, old-age,
surviving relative, accident and disability benefits.
however, were quick to scorn the original initiative, which led its sponsors to
soften their proposal’s punch.
The result is a mishmash that neither
denies all terrorists the largesse of the Israeli taxpayers whom they sought to
harm, nor protects the bill from legal challenges on the grounds of
The measures’s opponents, among them an assortment of
civil liberties jurists and Justice Ministry functionaries, assailed the very
notion of reducing social security benefits as punishment. Such benefits,
according to legalistic perceptions, are the basic right of any citizen. To
deprive any eligible person of his due, it’s averred, violates both the letter
and the spirit of existing legislation.
On top of this, detractors claim
that it is indefensible to punish any ex-convict who presumably paid his debt to
society. Moreover, such extra punishment is inherently disproportional, as the
needier a person becomes, the greater the adverse impact of benefits-denial upon
All the above reservations may be pedantically valid from the
strictly formal perspective yet, even so, offend the ordinary citizen’s sense of
To the layman, it’s preposterous that Israelis would
shell out portions of their hard-earned incomes to help recognized terrorists
who actively aimed to kill the very taxpayers from whom they then brazenly
demand financial support.
This issue isn’t new to our public discourse.
Back in 2001, a vehement chorus of disapproval was provoked by revelations that
the family of suicide bomber Muhammad Shaker Habeishi, who blew himself up
outside the Nahariya train station, killing three people and wounding 94 others,
was eligible for a monthly pension of NIS 2,800.
By law there was no way
of denying him comprehensive taxpayer-funded assistance. The law, in its
obligatory blindness, doesn’t distinguish between terrorists and those whom they
conspired to murder.
This, at the height of the second intifada, was just
the harbinger of numerous examples of Israeli taxpayers bankrolling their
would-be annihilators or the terrorists’ kin. While legal theoreticians may have
had no quarrel with this state of affairs, it grated against the intuitions of
Mr. and Ms. Average Israeli.
There’s no disputing that a genuine ethical
dilemma exists here. More than a little chutzpah is involved when a nation’s
most coldblooded enemies regard themselves as entitled to their intended
However, when the Knesset sets about to rectify a
situation that is intrinsically unacceptable to many of us, it cannot have it
both ways. It cannot focus exclusively on terrorists sentenced to 10 years or
more. Is there a moral difference between them and terrorists sentenced only to
nine years? Similarly the Knesset cannot cover itself by eliminating just half
the legalistic literalism on the one hand, while preserving just half the
disciplinary wallop originally prescribed. That is a surefire way of not
satisfying critics, while concomitantly not meeting legislative
If known terrorists are entitled to our collective largess,
then they should receive it unstintingly – in full. Conversely, why should
terrorists get a single agora if their demonstrated belligerence against the
taxpayers who fund them disqualifies said terrorists from further dependence on
these very taxpayers? The proposed legislation has already served us well by
underscoring the irrationality embedded in our egalitarian
Nonetheless, this bill’s operative premise is as absurd
as that which it seeks to correct.