Should Israel Give Life to the Death Penalty?
IsraelGuest Column

Should Israel Give Life to the Death Penalty?

Israeli politicians and citizens push for death penalty despite government mandate against sentence.

Photo courtesy of Channel 2 News Israel
These three terrorists were convicted of killing four Israelis in the 2016 Sarona Market attack in Tel Aviv.
Photo courtesy of Channel 2 News Israel These three terrorists were convicted of killing four Israelis in the 2016 Sarona Market attack in Tel Aviv.

Muhammad Muhamra, Khalid Muhamra and Younis Ayash Musa Zayn received life sentences in a Tel Aviv court Wednesday, Nov. 29. The perpetrators of the 2016 Sarona Market attack in Tel Aviv, the three men are responsible for the deaths of four Israeli civilians.

Carried out with crudely made, black-market handguns, the deadly attack was part of a haphazard plan.

The West Bank residents crossed into Israel through a break in the security barrier. Upon entering Tel Aviv, in search of a crowded location, the perpetrators asked locals where they could find a place with multiple restaurants. They were directed to the upscale, crowded Sarona Market, where they opened fire in the densely packed complex after ordering dessert.

Beyond the four deaths, dozens were injured in the attack.

Sentencing perpetrators of deadly terrorist attacks is an unfortunately common occurrence in Israel, a country where the death penalty has been carried out only once: Adolf Eichmann, convicted in an Israeli court of war crimes for his role in the Nazi Final Solution, was hanged in Ramla in 1962.

According to a July Israel Democracy Institute poll, 70 percent of Israelis either “strongly” or “moderately” supported “the execution of Palestinians found guilty of murdering Israeli civilians for nationalist reasons.”

This issue is thorny in Israeli society because of the relatively common practice of releasing convicted terrorists as part of negotiations and prisoner swaps with the Palestinian leadership.

Many politicians in Israel echo the sentiment of those polled by the Israel Democracy Institute. One of the forerunners of this movement is Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party leader Avigdor Lieberman, who has avidly pushed for legislation mandating the death penalty for Palestinian terrorists convicted of killing Israelis.

But despite the efforts of Lieberman and others to pass such bills, none has gained traction, even when recently supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and public opinion.

During the summer, Omar al-Abed, armed with a knife, slaughtered three members of a Jewish family in their home in the settlement of Halamish. After the attack, many in Israel, including numerous members of the Knesset, lobbied for al-Abed to receive the death penalty.

Despite such overtures, the Military Advocate General’s Office, responsible for trying the case, released a statement reiterating that while Israeli law allows for such measures, military prosecutors do not see it as Israeli policy and do not plan to pursue capital punishment in the case.

This debate is unlikely to be resolved soon, especially considering the regularity of politically motivated violence in Israel and the government mandate of not pursuing the death penalty. Likewise, if capital punishment were to become common for convicted terrorists, what about extreme acts of violence perpetrated by Jewish Israelis? Should Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s murderer, a religious Jew, have been given the death penalty?


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