Israel Throws the Book at Stone-Throwers

The country has imposed mandatory prison sentences in an effort to stem a wave of rock-throwing.

Ammar Awad / Reuters

Earlier this month, following the death of an Israeli man who lost control of his car after Palestinians pelted it with stones, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would “declare war” on stone-throwers.

As with most things related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the declaration generated controversy abroad and initiated a debate inside Israel over how to punish an act considered to be symbolic and relatively harmless in some instances and violent and dangerous in others. On Thursday, Israel’s security cabinet unanimously voted to approve a temporary series of measures meant to clamp down on rock-throwing.

The measures will last for three years and will impose a minimum four-year prison term for those who throw rocks and Molotov cocktails in Israel and the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem.* As Reuters notes, that may include sentences for minors between the ages of 14 and 18 and possible fines for their parents, along with the cancellation of some benefits like welfare.

Perhaps most notably, the measures also alter the rules of engagement with rock-throwers, expanding the permitted use of live fire by Israeli forces against individuals in some situations. In a statement, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office explained:

The security cabinet has decided to authorize police to use live ammunition against people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails when the life of a third person is threatened and no longer only when a police officer is threatened.

The cabinet’s decision goes against the recommendations of Yehuda Weinstein, Israel’s attorney general, who called for the minimum sentences to be instituted over the course of a one-year trial period and also opposed changing the rules of engagement.

“Officials who took part in the meeting noted that the ministers accepted the attorney general's position that the minimum sentencing would only apply to adults who throw stones and firebombs,” noted Barak Ravid at Haaretz. “They also accepted his recommendation to leave a loophole that would allow judges to deviate from the minimum sentence as long as they can justify it.”

* This sentence has been updated to clarify that the measures apply to both Jewish and Arab residents of Israel.​