The Israeli government’s proposed changes to Israel’s death penalty legislation will make it easier for judges to sentence people to death if they are convicted of terrorist activity. Palestinian leaders fear changes to the existing death penalty legislation will allow Israel to target Palestinians and have labelled the proposed changes as fascist.
Although Israel already has a law allowing the use of the death penalty, the amendments to include terrorism as an offence punishable by death were tabled in Parliament in early January and backed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Currently, Israeli civilian courts only use the death penalty to punish Nazis and Nazi collaborators after they are convicted of committing murder during the Holocaust. However, military courts can hand out the death penalty if a panel of three judges agree upon the sentence. The proposed change will remove the requirement of a unanimous decision among three judges in a military court and instead will only require a majority of two judges to agree.
Israel’s penal law defines terrorist activity as a “deliberate attempt to murder civilians in order to achieve political, national, religious or ideological objectives.” Palestinians worry that the term is too broad and encompassing and thus, it may be easier for Israel to falsely accuse Palestinians of terrorism and sentence them to death. The European Union in Israel has condemned the proposed changes to the death penalty, stating that “the death penalty is incompatible with human dignity. It constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment, does not have any proven deterrent effect and allows judicial errors to become irreversible and fatal.”
Surprisingly, judicial executions in Israel are rare. In 1962, the former SS commander, Adolf Eichmann, was executed for his role in the Holocaust. In 1948, the Israeli army executed Meir Tobianski after he was accused of passing intelligence to the Jordanian army, although he was posthumously exonerated. It is precisely the miscarriage of justice and the irreversibility of the death penalty evident in Tobianski’s case that makes the death penalty an unsuitable form of punishment for any crime. Israel’s “eye for an eye” attitude will not promote peace between Israeli and Palestinian people, but only act to increase tensions and hatred. Exercising the death penalty for people accused of terrorism will not deter people from committing terrorism, nor solve the root cause of the problem.
Although it seems unlikely, a far more befitting solution would be for the Israeli and Palestinian governments to work together to ease the hatred between the two groups, hence decreasing the likelihood of terrorism through peace rather than punishment. A two-state solution would be the optimal resolution of the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestine and therefore, the incidence of terrorism would be greatly decreased. Instead of focusing on power and territory, Israel’s government should freeze Israeli expansion and engage in talks with Palestine to reach a compromise that suits both parties to end the needless conflict. It is clear the United States is no longer a suitable mediating party between Israel and Palestine and thus, both Israeli and Palestinian governments need to take the responsibility for ending the conflict upon themselves.
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