Israel advances Palestinians-only death penalty bill

People hold signs, flags and banners in front of a cube structure that has the faces of Israeli government officials crossed out

Palestinians take part in a demonstration in solidarity with detainees in Israeli prisons, in Gaza City on 21 February.

Youssef Abu Watfa APA images

Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons have entered their third week of disobedience to protest brutal measures enforced by Israel’s ultra-far-right police minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

The minister is “fighting us with our bread and water,” the prisoners’ leadership said, referring to punishments that include even controlling their showers.

Ben-Gvir announced a series of punitive measures as Israeli lawmakers last week advanced a bill that would allow the execution of Palestinians who kill Israelis.

The government-backed bill passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset alongside another similar measure, according to The Times of Israel. It is expected that the two will be merged into a single piece of legislation.

If passed into law, it would permit courts to put Palestinians who killed Israelis to death if they did so out of so-called nationalistic motivations.

“However, it would not apply to an Israeli who killed a Palestinian,” according to The Times of Israel, underscoring the openly racist and apartheid nature of Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people.

The death penalty legislation was one of Ben-Gvir’s key campaign promises.

In defense of the bill, Israeli lawmakers lamented that Palestinians in Israeli prisons could be released in prisoner exchanges or enjoy “pleasant” conditions in the prisons.

Some even contended that imposing the death penalty might deter future attacks against Israelis.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock expressed rare disapproval to her Israeli counterpart last week at a press conference in Berlin.

“We are firmly opposed to the death penalty, and we are raising this issue all over the world,” Baerbock said. “All over the world, states are in the process of abandoning this cruel practice, partly because it has been proven that it is not effective as a deterrent,” Baerbock said.

But Baerbock appeared as much concerned about Israel’s image as any point of principle.

She noted that the only time Israeli civilian courts have imposed the death penalty was against Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal abducted in Argentina by Mossad, tried in Jerusalem and hanged in 1962.

Baerbock claimed that this has “always been an impressive argument for those of us who have defended Israel on the international stage against unfair criticism” and that passing the death penalty “would be a big mistake to break with this history.”

The elephant in the room is that Israeli personnel, encouraged by the country’s top leaders, routinely extrajudicially execute Palestinians who pose no threat, in the context of alleged attacks.

The head of the Palestinian Authority body responsible for prisoners affairs said that there is “no need to pass such laws, as the Israeli authorities are practicing field executions every day against Palestinians.”

Looting of homes

Meanwhile, the most openly extreme right-wing Israeli government yet is moving to make Palestinian prisoners’ lives even more miserable than they already are.

Occupation soldiers raided and ransacked dozens of family homes of former and current Palestinian detainees from East Jerusalem last month and stole money and gold from them.

On 10 February, Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant issued an order imposing penalties on a specific list of former and current detainees. This includes fines and freezing their bank accounts.

Israel’s pretext is that the detainees or their families had received funds earmarked for prisoner welfare from the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli military conducted a similar raid in the Silwan neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem in late February.

The home invaders damaged belongings and stole large amounts of cash and gold, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

The human rights group noted that “such action has never been taken by any Israeli government before.”

Israeli forces also issued fines and froze the bank accounts of certain former and current detainees and their families. The Israeli fines exceeded $700,000 in total.

“Break members of the family”

Muhammad, a former Palestinian prisoner, told The Electronic Intifada that Israeli occupation forces raided his family home in the Old City of Jerusalem in mid-February.

The man, whose real name is being withheld by The Electronic Intifada, asserted that Israeli intelligence agents were primarily looking for money and gold in the home, not political content.

“They removed the electrical sockets from the walls, they took off tiles and they broke many other things in the house,” Muhammad said.

“It was clear the purpose was to break members of the family, not just Muhammad,” the former detainee said.

Muhammad, who is in his 20s, spent eight years in Israeli prisons before being released last year.

His father rushed to the bank the same day his son’s name appeared on the list. He wanted to view his statement and withdraw money when he learned that his account had been frozen by the Israeli government.

Israel has frozen nearly $30,000 of his father’s money, even though he said he had proof that this money was from his income from his job. The bank insisted the decision came from the government.

His father would only be able to use the bank account with specific restrictions.

Muhammad told The Electronic Intifada that his and his father’s cars were confiscated, despite the latter having been purchased years before Muhammad was arrested and therefore impossible to have been bought with alleged PA funds Israel claims he received.

Part of Israel’s pretext for seizing the property is its objection to payments the families of Palestinian prisoners sometimes receive from the PA.

These penalties “worsen the families’ living conditions and punish the detainee and his family twice: once by arrest, and the other by seizing their money,” PCHR said.

What the Israeli government is doing “is a form of arbitrary and unlawful collective punishment.”


This comes as Ben-Gvir called for even more punishments for Palestinian prisoners.

Ben-Gvir demanded that Israeli prison authorities limit the time that certain Palestinian prisoners are allowed to use the showers.

Palestinian political prisoners – so-called security prisoners – will only be allowed to take showers for four minutes at a time, and running water will only be available for one hour every day.

As part of Israeli prison authorities’ punitive measures against Palestinian detainees, they are serving them stale and frozen bread, conducting frequent raids and searches of cells and increasing use of solitary confinement.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.