By Avigdor Liberman
During the last elections, one of Yisrael Beytenu’s main campaign promises was to strengthen and advocate for the death penalty for terrorist murderers. While Israeli judges have always had the option of the death penalty, it has almost never been applied.
One of the major reasons that none of the mass murdering terrorists over the years has been executed is that there is a requirement for a unanimity amongst the presiding justices to deliver the death sentence. Fixing this difficulty, our new law requires only a simple majority among the judges to deliver this penalty.
Some have argued against this new law, and they largely fall into the following opposition.
Some ask the legitimate question as to whether this legislation is intended to punish or deter, and whether it can deter anyone who has already decided that they will attack in order to kill Jews and understand that there is a good chance that they will not survive.
The position of some in the defense establishment is that the death penalty will not deter and prevent the next murder, but on the contrary, it will only harm and turn every terrorist into a martyr.
However, I do not find this argument convincing.
In the past, we have seen dozens of opinions from the defense establishment that house demolitions deter terrorists. Therefore, to say that demolishing homes is a deterrent yet the death penalty is not is confusing. In my humble opinion, the death penalty will significantly deter and reduce the motivation among potential terrorists to attack, and I am not the only one who thinks so.
In 1994, Said Badarneh, a Hamas member, was sentenced to death by an Israeli military court for planning two suicide bombings. One of the presiding judges, Col. (res.) Oded Pesenzon, explained a few years later: “I believed that a death sentence would deter other terrorists. We never tried it before … There is a difference between organizations such as Hamas, whose goal is to kill Jews, and individual terrorists, people who are willing to plan a detailed murder, and tell themselves that they will not get caught. Today, it is possible to deter terrorists.”
Even if we accept the argument that the potential terrorist is aware that there is a reasonable chance that he or she will die at the time of the terrorist attack, it is impossible to rule out the fact that he or she is willing to take a risk, in the hope of succeeding in escaping or going to prison in the hope of being released in a future prisoner trade deal.
The motivation for terrorists to try and release their comrades from prison remains a very real and ongoing issue. Only last month, a Hamas squad from the Nablus area tried to kidnap Israeli soldiers or civilians for bargaining chips to free terrorists from prison.
From the first Jibril deal in 1983 until the Shalit deal, the State of Israel released 7,578 terrorists, including the vilest murderers such as Samir Kuntar, who smashed the skull of a four year old Israeli girl with his own hands in 1979. Seven Israelis have been murdered by those released in the Shalit deal.
Other arguments question whether Israel, an enlightened and liberal nation that respects human rights, can afford to impose the death penalty in cases of particularly cruel terrorist acts.
However, in 2013, the Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev , who was responsible for the attack during the city’s marathon was unanimously given the capital punishment by a jury in Massachusetts, considered the capital of academia and science not only in the United States but in the world.
Moreover, only in the past two years more than 40 people have been executed in the United States and 70 have been sentenced to death.
Furthermore, there are those who argue that there is no need for further legislation because the law as it stands contains a possibility of the death sentence. The problem is that the general policy of Israel’s prosecution is not to demand the death penalty under any circumstances, even in the most shocking cases of mass murder.
In four different cases in the past, however, the courts ruled differently and sentenced terrorists to death. Nevertheless, all were commuted to prison terms and some were even subsequently released in prisoner swap deals.
Since the existing law requires a unanimous decision, it is never used.
In 2003, Raed Sheik, a Palestinian policeman convicted of murdering two Israeli reservists during a lynching in Ramallah, was sentenced to death by a majority of two judges against one. The two judges who asked for the death sentence wrote in their verdict: “We found that the responsibility of our job is to stand by and shout that Jewish blood is not cheap.”
The main problem is that the Attorney General, who has sole authority to direct the prosecution in Israel, is strongly opposed to the death penalty. Therefore, the only way to lead a change in this policy is through Knesset legislation.
This law is one of principle and was one of the main criteria in the coalition agreement signed by Yisrael Beytenu when it joined the government, with the acquiescence of all other parties in the coalition, who voted to support the agreement on the Knesset floor.
When we were in the opposition, we promoted the same bill on the death penalty that was rejected in the Knesset by an overwhelming majority, including Knesset Members who are members of the current coalition and those who have since joined our position on the death penalty.
Only Members of Knesset from Yisrael Beytenu have demonstrated a strong and consistent support for this law, one that will make Israelis safer. I believe that the death penalty will deter world-be terrorists and will make it clear to the entire world, finally, that Jewish blood is not cheap.
The writer is Minister of Defense and Chairman of Yisrael Beytenu.