Israel Tightens Crackdown on Palestinian Stone-Throwers

Israel Stone-Throwers Middle East
Palestinian youths throw stones towards Israeli police during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of A-tur, after a Palestinian youth was killed by Israeli security forces April 25, 2015. Reuters/Ammar Awad

Israel will impose a minimum four-year jail term on Palestinian petrol bombers and rock throwers and will ease open-fire regulations and impose harsher fines, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.

The Israeli leader's "Security Cabinet" of senior ministers agreed measures aimed at quelling a recent rise in roadside attacks against Israeli vehicles in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

"The Security Cabinet unanimously adopted a series of measures within the framework of our fight against stone throwers, petrol bombs and flares," Netanyahu said in a recorded televised statement.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been frozen since 2014 and while violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has not approached the levels of past Palestinian uprisings, there has been a surge in stone-throwing.

One modified order allows security forces to shoot when the life of a third party is under threat. Until the change, Israeli soldiers facing violent Palestinian protests could open fire with live bullets only if their own life was in danger.

The cabinet ordered a minimum four-year jail term for anybody throwing dangerous objects as a temporary measure to be in effect for three years. This does not require parliament's approval.

Other measures, including greater fines, possible jail time for youths aged between 14 and 18 and financial penalties on the parents of minors under 14, will require a parliamentary vote.

"We intend to change the norm that has taken root, that in Israel you can throw these dangerous, murderous objects without a response and without combating them," Netanyahu added.

While tougher action against Palestinian stone-throwers would likely draw international concern, Netanyahu's government and the military are under pressure from Israeli settler leaders in the West Bank.

In July, Israel's parliament imposed tougher penalties of up to 20 years in prison for people throwing rocks at vehicles, after Palestinian protests in occupied East Jerusalem.

But no such punishments have been reported since the new legislation was approved, and the measure does not apply to the occupied West Bank, where Israeli military law is in effect and stone-throwing has been common.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem lists 12 Palestinian minors who were shot and killed by Israeli forces during protests and clashes in the West Bank in 2014. In at least four of those incidents, Israel said the youngsters had been throwing rocks or petrol bombs, according to B'Tselem.

Since 2011, three Israelis, including a baby and a girl, have been killed in the West Bank after rocks were thrown at vehicles they were traveling in.