Chief Palestinian negotiator says relaxed rules on use of live fire are ‘pretext to justify escalating crimes against Palestinians’

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at a press conference after an emergency meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, on August 11, 2014. (AP/Amr Nabil)
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at a press conference after an emergency meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, on August 11, 2014. (AP/Amr Nabil)


Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday that Israel’s newly approved measures against Palestinian stone-throwers in Jerusalem and the West Bank and relaxed rules of engagement were inhumane and opened the door “for new crimes to be committed” under the new directives.

The secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) accused Israel of continuing to “incite against Palestinian lives, with a culture of hate that dehumanizes a whole nation. Israel continues to ignore and gravely break its obligations under international law.”

In a statement on the new Israeli rules approved by the security cabinet on Thursday, Erekat said the Palestinian Authority would turn to the “relevant institutions” to “protect our people” adding that “the new decision expands the level under which Palestinian demonstrators’ lives can be directly targeted in a manner that allows the Israeli forces to shoot Palestinians when the life of a third party is under threat.”

“It leaves Israeli forces with the wide discretion to estimate situations of ‘threat,’” he warned.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 20, 2015. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 20, 2015. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL/FLASH90)

The new measures are “a mere pretext to justify the escalating Israeli crimes against the people of Palestine,” he added.

On Thursday, Israel’s security cabinet voted unanimously in favor of a series of proposed measures aimed at combating stone-throwing, including mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of throwing rocks and firebombs, and an easing of the rules governing police use of live fire in rock-throwing incidents.

The cabinet agreed to back legislation to allow live fire in any case in which lives are endangered; use of .22 Ruger sniper rifles against rock throwers; a minimum four-year prison sentence for rock throwers, including imprisonment and fines for minors aged 14-18; the cancellation of welfare benefits for minors in prison; and an evaluation of fining parents of convicted children aged 12-14.

“The security cabinet has decided to authorize police to use live ammunition against people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails when the life of a third person is threatened and no longer only when a police officer is threatened,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Following the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that “In Israel, these murderous objects won’t be thrown unanswered and without prevention.”

The cabinet vote came despite opposition by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who, at a meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday, suggested instituting minimum sentences for such offenses through a one-year trial period. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was said to be looking for a three-year provision.

Weinstein also objected to relaxing the rules of engagement, arguing that his recent authorization of the use in East Jerusalem of the Ruger rifle, a .22 caliber firearm with a capacity to neutralize without being as potentially deadly as heavier weapons, was a sufficient measure for the moment.

Both Netanyahu and Shaked have brushed off Weinstein’s opposition, with the PM saying Sunday that “the government is sovereign and it decides, even if it is contrary to the position of the judiciary.

Netanyahu has been pushing for the legislative changes amid a surge in rock-throwing and firebomb attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank in recent weeks, including one that proved fatal on the night of the Jewish New Year when an Israeli driver was killed crashing his car into a pole after coming under attack by rock-throwers in Jerusalem.

At an emergency meeting two weeks ago, Netanyahu announced he would seek to toughen punishments for such attacks. Subsequent meetings turned up additional proposed measures. At the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu ordered a review of the rules of engagement used by police officers and was considering allowing police to use live fire in certain circumstances when civilian lives are in danger.

Permission would be granted “in very limited instances, with lots of restrictions,” Israel’s Channel 2 reported when the proposed measure was announced last week. It would likely be granted during incidents considered “grassroots terror” or lone-wolf attacks, as opposed to during mass demonstrations, the report said, noting nonetheless that this would represent a marked departure from current procedures in East Jerusalem and Israel.

Netanyahu initially sought a minimum sentence for stone throwers of 4-5 years in prison, while those caught throwing firebombs would serve no less than 10 years behind bars. Parents of minors caught throwing stones could be fined NIS 100,000 ($26,000) under the new laws.

Shaked, meanwhile, was seeking to impose fines on the parents of children under the age of 12 of NIS 10,000-20,000 ($2,500-$5,000), which would be returned if the children do not repeat the crime within a year.

Under current Israeli law, children below the age of 12 cannot be held accountable for crimes.

As reported by The Times of Israel