Israel on Wednesday approved preliminary legislation that would make it easier for a court to impose a death sentence on assailants convicted of murder in attacks classified as terrorism.
The deeply controversial motion was brought by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an ultra-nationalist in the conservative coalition government, who advocates tough action against Palestinian militants. Fifty-two of parliament’s 120 members voted in favor, and 49 were opposed.
Israeli military courts - which handle cases involving Palestinians in the occupied West Bank - already have the power to issue the death sentence, although this has never been implemented. The only case of an execution in Israel was carried out against convicted Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1962.
Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoner Club which represents Palestinians jailed in Israel, denounced the vote as “an expression of the state of blindness and confusion in the policies of this fascist regime (where) extremist parties race to pass racist laws.
“While the world moves toward repealing the death penalty, Israel is working to ratify this law, which is directed against the Palestinians,” Fares told Reuters.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voted for the motion but said that such legislation required deeper discussion and that the matter would now be considered at ministerial level before further debate in the Knesset.
In remarks to lawmakers, he said: “I think that in extreme cases, when somebody slaughters and laughs (as he kills), he should not spend the rest of his time in jail and should be executed.”
Asked by an Israeli Arab lawmaker whether he would also apply this reasoning to Jewish militants convicted of killing Palestinians, Netanyahu said: “In principle, yes.”
As the law stands now, a panel of three military judges must unanimously approve any death penalty in military courts.
The bill would change the requirement to a majority instead of unanimity.
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank face military courts when arrested by Israel.
Israel abolished the use of capital punishment for murder in civil courts in 1954, though it can still in theory be applied for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, treason, and crimes against the Jewish people.
In July as Netanyahu visited with family members of three Israelis stabbed to death by a Palestinian, he expressed support for the death penalty in certain cases.
"The death penalty for terrorists? - it's time to implement it in severe cases," he said while speaking with the family members.