Punishing rock-throwing

Rock-throwing has been a feature of Palestinian terrorism at least since the first intifada and the practice continues to be a symbol of the Palestinian struggle.

November 4, 2014 00:36
3 minute read.
Palestinian throws stones at IDF

A Palestinian boy throws stones at an armored wheel loader of the Israel Defense Forces during clashes near Nablus. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Rock-throwing has been a feature of Palestinian terrorism at least since the first intifada and the practice continues to be a symbol of the Palestinian struggle. In April 2013, Haaretz columnist Amira Hass wrote that throwing stones “is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule.” She went on to say that the practice is “the adjective attached to the subject of ‘We’ve had enough of you, occupiers.’” But rocks can also kill or seriously wound–and very often that is precisely the intention of those who throw them.

In March 2013, just a month before Hass wrote her column, Palestinian terrorists threw rocks at a car driven by Adva Biton with her three young daughters near the city of Ariel. Biton lost control of the car. All the occupants were wounded, but the fate of Adele, Biton’s three-yearold, was the worst. A fist-sized rock struck her in the head. She remains semi-comatose to this day.

In September 2011, Palestinians threw rocks at the car of Asher Palmer, who was driving with his son Yonatan. Both were killed. Yonatan was just two days short of his first birthday. The terrorists responsible were convicted of murder. It was the first time a military court handed down a verdict of murder for rock-throwing.

In other cases of rock-throwing, when the results were less tragic, judges have normally given relatively light sentences of no more than two years.

Rock-throwing has also been a salient element of Palestinian rioting in east Jerusalem for the past four months since the tragic murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. Jerusalem’s light rail and buses have been a target of the rock-throwers, as have the cars of Jewish Israelis who have dared to pass through Arab neighborhoods. And of course rock-throwing is a central feature of nearly every Arab riot that has taken place in the capital, whether atop the Temple Mount, at the entrance to Isawiya, in Shuafat, or elsewhere.

This week, the cabinet approved a bill that, if passed by the Knesset, would make it easier to slap stiffer prison sentences on stone-throwers. The bill seeks to lengthen the maximum sentence for the offense of throwing a stone at a moving vehicle to 10 years, even if it could not be proved that the rock-thrower had the intention to harm – as long as it was done in a way that could endanger someone in the vehicle or a bystander. The law already allows for a maximum sentence of 20 years if the rock-thrower’s intent to harm is proved in court. Also, the bill would provide a prison sentence of up to five years for those who throw rocks at police cars.

However, while the desire to confront Arab violence in east Jerusalem and on the roads of Judea and Samaria is understandable and admirable, we cannot help wondering whether the bill passed in the cabinet was motivated by populism. Politicians want to show the public they are doing something to curb the violence in east Jerusalem.

But criminal lawyers familiar with rock-throwing cases say the problem has less to do with the laws on the books and more to do with the lack of willingness on the part of judges to change their attitude toward rock-throwers and recognize that under certain circumstances – particularly when rocks are thrown at a fast-moving vehicle – this symbol of Palestinian resistance can kill. No change in legislation will result in more stringent prison sentences unless judges change their attitudes toward potentially life-threatening rock-throwing.

Also, minors – even quite young minors – are disproportionately represented in rock-throwing incidents, compared to other nationalist-motivated crimes. Prison sentences for these minors will inevitably be shorter, and rightly so.

In any event, making it easier to give lengthier sentences to those who throw rocks at moving vehicles will do little to deter Palestinians who, as Hass put it, see it as their “birthright and duty” to resist “foreign rule” and who receive the enthusiastic backing of the Palestinian political leadership.

And when extraordinary – some would say draconian – steps are taken to crack down on a phenomenon associated principally with Arabs, all citizens of Israel – Jews and Arabs alike – end up suffering for the consequent undermining of justice.

Alongside aggressive law enforcement throughout Jerusalem, including in Arab neighborhoods, more needs to be done to provide Palestinian residents with equal services, whether it be in housing, classrooms, or health.

Ultimately, however, the calming of the atmosphere in the capital depends on the Palestinian population. Will they choose to focus on improving their day-to-day lives through integration and peaceful coexistence or will they continue the struggle against “foreign rule”?

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