The Israeli Knesset on Tuesday approved the first reading of a bill which would allow Israeli courts to hand down prison sentences to minors under the age of 14 -- legislation critics say is targeted at Palestinian children.
A recent amendment to the bill, which would apply to children convicted of murder, attempted murder, and homicide, reportedly declared that the prison terms would be postponed until the accused minors turn 18.
If passed into law after two more successful readings in the Knesset, the legislation would apply to residents of Israel and occupied East Jerusalem, whereas Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are tried in military courts.
According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, at least 108 Palestinian minors under the age of 16 were being held by Israel as of February.
“Unfortunately, terrorism does not have an age, and today there are no punishments matching the cruel reality we face,” The Jerusalem Post quoted Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked as saying on Sunday. “In order to create deterrence and change the situation around us, we must adopt the suggested new amendments to the law.”
Shaked first proposed the bill in November, after two Palestinian children ages 12 and 13 allegedly stabbed and injured an Israeli security guard on Jerusalem's light rail near the illegal Israeli settlement of Pisgat Zeev.
An increase in violence in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel has led to the death of more than 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis since October, with a wave of small-scale attacks and attempted attacks, the majority carried out by Palestinian individuals on Israeli military targets.
Knesset member Yousef Jabareen of the Joint Arab List has criticized the bill as an affront to international law.
“Israel is a party to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and this change contradicts Israel’s obligation to this convention,” the politician, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, told Ma’an.
The convention states that “the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
According to Jabareen, Shaked’s statements regarding the bill leave little doubt as to who will be the main targets of such legislation.
“This bill targets Palestinian children,” he said. “Of course the bill is written in objective terms, but everyone knows the context in which it is being presented, and I doubt it will be used in other contexts.”
“This is an integrant part of a wave of bills introduced in the past few months which are harshening punishments for Palestinian children and families, especially in East Jerusalem,” Jabareen added.
The MK notably mentioned a law passed by the Knesset in July which made penalties for stone-throwing more severe, allowing for stone-throwers to receive a 20-year prison sentence where intent to harm could be proven, and 10 years where it could not.
Jabareen said he believed the bill would likely pass into law.
“Unfortunately, in the current atmosphere, there is a good chance the bill will pass,” he said. “Even some opposition MKs support the bill.”
However, he expressed doubts that the legislation would effectively act as a deterrent.
“The (Israeli) government is attempting to oppress and suppress the Palestinian resistance, but everybody knows that without a serious proposal for advancing the political process, they are doomed to fail.”
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