+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

A death penalty for terrorists would be terrible for Israel

Not only would the death penalty have no deterrent effect on bona fide terrorists. It’s just plain wrong.

Police investigators stand around the body of a Palestinian man who ran over a group of Israeli pedestrians in Jerusalem, November 5, 2014. Police shot and killed the man shortly after the attack. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Police investigators stand around the body of a Palestinian man who ran over a group of Israeli pedestrians in Jerusalem, November 5, 2014. Police shot and killed the man shortly after the attack. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Update: On Sunday afternoon, Haaretz reports that the Prime Minister postponed the ministerial debate on the death penalty bill for three months – most likely a delaying tactic. He also instructed the formation of a government committee to look into the issue. The bill’s sponsor responded that delaying the debate over the death penalty is proof that Likud isn’t truly part of the “national” camp. Israel’s Justice Minister supports of the bill.

A ministerial committee was expected to decide whether or not Israel’s governing coalition will support a bill allowing the death penalty for terrorists on Sunday. Israel Beitenu, Avigdor Liberman’s party, says that the bill applies to people convicted of “murder in terrorist circumstances,” including in the West Bank. 

The bill fulfills a campaign promise by Liberman’s “Israel Beitenu” party. The current version of the draft law was sponsored by his neophyte legislator Sharon Gal.

The death penalty proposal is only the latest in a long-running tactic of Liberman’s: float outrageous ideas during the campaign season to rally his far-right base and then try and turn them into policies and legislation after the elections. The first example was “no loyalty, no citizenship,” which appeared during the 2009 campaign – a direct attack on Arab citizens. That was eventually translated into a series of bills designed to harangue them, sponsored or co-sponsored by Liberman’s legislators. Some of them passed. We should have known his “death penalty for terrorists” slogan was no stunt either.

Haaretz ticks off some of the obvious and well-known reasons why the law is ill-conceived: research has shown that the death penalty has little deterrent effect, especially when the potential perpetrator is ideologically motivated to commit, for example, a suicide attack. The Western world has largely disavowed the death penalty, with the exception of the U.S. (and I want to believe that even there it is fated to go the way of bans on gay marriage). Further, Israel’s attorney general is set to oppose the draft law, reports Haaretz, such that even if the committee approves the bill as expected, it will face hurdles.

But stranger things have happened and the consequences of this bill actually passing one day must be considered. Those consequences will be terrible – for Israel.

First, it’s worth reiterating why it will have zero impact on terrorism against Israeli citizens. It’s not only suicide bombers who are willing to die. Lately, there have been more and more low-grade incidents such as stabbings, vehicle attacks and stone-throwing that end with the attacker being killed on the spot, rather than apprehending or incapacitating the suspect. The minister in charge of police in the previous government, a member of Liberman’s party, even gave what many perceived as a green light to police to kill terrorism suspects on the spot last year. Palestinians have no illusions about the fact that even demonstrating carries risk of death.

Anyone plotting a genuine terror attack, even if it is not a suicide bombing, can reasonably count on being killed on the spot. The abstract notion of some lengthy legal process that might drag on for years will be so remote as to deter no one.

The main impact, then, will be on Israel’s own society. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the recent elections by conflating leftists with ISIS. In this pithy ad, the key words (and among the only words) are “my brother” – used by the ISIS member to greet the Israeli left-winger. Commentators have long accused human rights organizations in Israel of supporting, or being supported by, terrorists. It has become such a routine accusation that many Israelis now take it for granted.

With such relentless incitement, a law stipulating death penalty for terrorists would surely ratchet up the expectation of punishment for “the Left,” even in its broadest definition (the ad just showed regular people, not activists, as the Left). The same expectation will legitimize increasingly severe limitations on the activity of left-wing organizations beyond the NGO bill.

Then consider Israel’s fetish over its image: hasbara. Play out a scenario in which Israel actually captures a terrorist alive, puts him or her on trial, sentences the perpetrator to death and all appeals are rejected. Imagine the global images that will be flashed over the newswires as Israel takes a person whose life was spent being harassed by the IDF, waiting at checkpoints, locked into a tiny geographic region, maybe jailed as a minor, lost brothers or parents to the conflict, and executes him through lethal injection. Go message that.

These are reasons why the bill is bad for Israel. It is the language that Israel’s automatic defenders must try and understand. But what if I were to say that it is unjust for the perpetrators? That all over the Western world, society has decided that death is an unacceptable, immoral response even to heinous crimes; that even I as a feminist do not support death penalty for rapists and murderers?

The right wing will say I care more about Palestinians than about Jews. They will assume that a moral argument for Palestinians taints or trumps any arguments about Israel and reveals my true pro-Palestinian bias. Sadly, they’re wrong. The law simply has multi-directional ways of being awful.

Newsletter banner

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • LEAVE A COMMENT

    * Required

    COMMENTS

    1. Pedro X

      Death is the ultimate deterrent for the executed Terrorist.

      The strongest argument for a death penalty for terrorists is that a dead terrorist cannot kill more victims. 435 terrorists were exchanged for Elchanan Tannenbaum. Meir Dagan, Mossad chief, said the result of the release of those terrorists were 231 dead Israelis.

      “On his last day as head of the Mossad, on Jan. 6 of this year, Dagan invited a group of reporters for an unprecedented visit to the organization’s headquarters, perhaps the most secret and well-fortified installation in Israel. We were driven there in a vehicle with blacked-out windows, then carefully searched before entering the building. During this meeting, Dagan sharply criticized the proposed deals for the release of Shalit. “Two hundred thirty-one Israelis were slaughtered by those freed in the Tannenbaum exchange,” he said. He recalled how in 1995 he informed a family that their son had been killed during an operation north of Nablus. “How can we go back to that woman and tell her that the man who killed her son and who was planning to murder many Israelis is being released, after he was sentenced to life imprisonment and after we told her he would never be released? What do we say to her?”

      The situation described by Dagan would never happen again if terrorists received a death sentence. A dead terrorist will not kill again, even if his body is released.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        More force – that always does the trick.

        Reply to Comment
        • Electric Avenue

          I see Brucifer. It’s ok when Hamas and othe Pal terrorist groups dial up the force according to you because you cheer it on and legitimize it.

          Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          John Gacey killed 33 people and he was executed.

          Palestinian terrorist and bomb maker Abdullah Barghouti was convicted of the murder of 66 Israelis and the wounding of 609. Despite the horrors he perpetrated, he lives in prison and enjoys many privileges. Every year the PA celebrates his murders and bestows honorific titles upon him. He waits for the day that he obtains his release so he can murder more Israelis. His victims still suffer.

          Barghouti packed his bombs with nails, bolts and nuts which were meant to rip through flesh and bone and cause multiple injuries and death. The Chicago Tribune’s report in 2002 illustrated some of the effect of bombs on people who survived:

          “Sharon Maman, 22, survived the triple bomb attack in Jerusalem on Dec. 1. But 35 nails and nuts lodged in his body. Nuts, nails and metal shreds are added to terrorist bombs to make them more devastating. One nail became stuck in Maman’s brain, robbing him of the ability to speak. Other injuries keep him from walking.

          He was in a coma for 11/2 months and remains bedridden and speechless at Hadassah Hospital in Mt. Scopus.”

          Daniel Turjeman left the Moment Cafe because there was no room for more people and went outside. Then a bomb exploded killing 11 and injuring him and 64 others. He was blown 60 feet away by the force of the blast which also severed his arm.

          “Sure I have nightmares,” Turjeman said. “In my sleep I hear the shouts of people, pieces of flesh flying through the air, my friend asking me what’s wrong with you and me telling him, `My arm is broken, my eyes and my back hurt,’ and then him saying, `What’s wrong with my eye?’ And I look up and see his eyeball dangling down his cheek.”

          Here is a list of the acts of which he Bharghouti was convicted:

          The terrorist attack in a Jerusalem Sbarro restaurant on 9 August 2001, in which 15 civilians were killed and 130 wounded. Abdallah Barghouti prepared the explosive device used by the suicide terrorist in the attack.

          The terrorist attack in the Sheffield Club in Rishon Lezion on 7 May 2002, in which 15 civilians were killed and 59 wounded.

          The multiple terrorist attack on the pedestrian mall on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street on 1 December 2001, in which ten civilians were killed and another 191 were wounded. Abdallah Barghouti prepared the three explosive devices used in the attacks, carried out using two suicide bombers and one car bomb.

          Barghouti prepared the explosive belt for the suicide bomber who carried out the attack in Moment Cafe in Jerusalem on 9 March 2002, in which 11 Israeli civilians were killed and 65 wounded.

          Barghouti prepared the explosive device used in the suicide bombing at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on 31 July 2002, in which nine Israeli civilians were killed and 81 wounded.

          Barghouti prepared the explosive belt that was used in the suicide attack on the number 4 bus on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv on 19 September 2002, killing six Israeli civilians and wounding 84.

          Society had a right to kill Gacey. Israel society should have killed a monster like Bharghouti so he never obtains another opportunity to kill and maim more Israelis.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Electric Avenue

      “They will assume that a moral argument for Palestinians taints or trumps any arguments about Is…”

      She said “taint”. LOL

      Reply to Comment
    3. Electric Avenue

      I see Dahlia.
      Then why do Palesrinians use the death pentalty to deter women from defining family honor?
      So maybe it is a time-tested deterrent? Perhaps without the death pentalty, there would be all sorts of family dishnor going on.
      Hypocrite much Dahlia?

      Reply to Comment
      • Hercules

        You are a troll!

        You are not an Israeli and you do not support Israel.

        You are the anti-Semite Brian alias “Ben” alias “Bryan” “E823” alias “MuslimJew”, alias etc. trying too hard to throw us off track, come across as an Israeli and use the opportunity to smear and give us bad name. It ain’t working, moron! “Electric Avenue” is another one of your aliases (I said this to you before on the thread from Michael Omer-Man and that clearly got you irate!). Your kind of troll is nothing new! Go take your meds, moron.

        @ +972 moderator

        Pls. ban this nauseating individual!

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Most interesting. I had you pegged for a completely cynical and devious but sane operator. Looks like that is not the whole story.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Ginger Eis

      Ms. Sheindlin,

      This is a badly written article for someone of your academic caliber. I agree that death penalty is not good for Israel, NOT for the reasons you gave, which, in my view, are not well-informed, but rather from the legal-science and moral perspectives.

      Here is why your arguments, Ms. Sheindlin, are mediocre and must be rejected:

      1. The goals of punishment within the legal science can be summarized as follows:

      a. Retribution/Revenge (the offender is made to pay proportionately for the damage he caused to his victim and the society);

      b. Special deterrence/prevention (the force/effect of punishment deters the specific offender/offenders from committing future crimes);

      c. General deterrence/prevention (members of the public who learn of the punishment are deterred from committing such acts themselves, because they now know the similar punishment would be visited on them);

      d. Re-habilitation and re-integration into the society (an offender who has served his time is welcomed back into the society and offered the chance to be a good and productive citizen).

      2. Hard science shows that the death-penalty achieves the first and the second goals with 100% efficacy and efficiency: life for life and once dead, a dead man commits murders no more. Problem solved!

      3. The same hard science demonstrate that death penalty, while not providing adequate/blanket general prevention/deterrence (i.e. the third goal), is indeed a form of deterrence. If one accepts the argument that death-penalty is non-deterrent (as you claim, Ms. Sheindlin), because murder-rates remain the same or is even increasing despite death penalty, one MUST ALSO accept that same argument with regard to ALL other forms of penalty, e.g. (life) imprisonment, because murder persist and is sometimes on the rise despite all available penalties. The conclusion must then be that imprisonment and other penalties have “zero effect” on terrorism/crime. That, you agree with me, cannot be accepted as valid. Accordingly, it is flat out false to claim that death-penalty has “zero effect” on terrorism, because according to its underlying logic, no penalty has any effect!

      4. The PR-argument you presented is equally false for different reason: (a) PR is not at all relevant to whether or not the death penalty is morally and legally a justified instrument of criminal justice; (b) even without the death penalty, Israel gets bad PR even when Israel is engaging in utterly altruistic acts (such as offering free medical treatment to refugees from Syria and the children of Gaza; helping the victims of earthquakes around the world, etc.), defending herself against murderous terrorist organizations in such an absolutely restrained manner no other army in the history of mankind has ever attempted, etc. In fact, Israel gets bad PR even when she does nothing. NO single evidence was presented in this article that demonstrates that the death-penalty or lack thereof will either increase or decrease the bad PR Israel already receives regardless of what Israel does. On the contrary, Ms. Sheindlin, the arguments you present are based on conjecture, and gut-feeling! That’s not good enough.

      Reply to Comment
    5. “If one accepts the argument that death-penalty is non-deterrent (as you claim, Ms. Sheindlin), because murder-rates remain the same or is even increasing despite death penalty, one MUST ALSO accept that same argument with regard to ALL other forms of penalty, e.g. (life) imprisonment, because murder persist and is sometimes on the rise despite all available penalties. The conclusion must then be that imprisonment and other penalties have “zero effect” on terrorism/crime. That, you agree with me, cannot be accepted as valid. Accordingly, it is flat out false to claim that death-penalty has “zero effect” on terrorism, because according to its underlying logic, no penalty has any effect!”

      No, obviously removing a thief from the free population prevents him (mostly) from further theft (he could always direct such from prison, and some do). So too there will be some correlation between murder and repeated murder, so removing the offender from the population will have some effect on the murder rate. As well, some murder will be deterred by fear of consequence. All we know is that there is no reliable evidence that deterrence in enhanced with that consequence might be death; if the effect is there, it is hard to measure statistically. The US has sentenced the remaining Boston terrorist to death, but I greatly doubt this execution, if it happens, will affect the background attempt rate of terrorism at all, partly because going down that road one enters a world of calculation against the police opponent more entrancing than what happens if caught, which is certainly evidenced in the young man sentenced to death in Boston.

      In the US, “three strikes and you’re out” was presented as a way to reduce recidivism. After all, after you’re third conviction no leniency makes personal calculation easier. All the US has to show for it is the highest incarceration rate in the developed West with prisons so overcrowded that occasionally, but rarely, the courts have threatened to mass release prisoners. The lifetime imprisoned rate among black males may be 1 in 3. Not all penalties deter equally.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Finally a real lawyer to debunk so much officious, pseudo-legal nonsense.

        Reply to Comment
        • Hercules

          And there you have Brian/Ben/MuslimJew/E823/etc., over-hyperventilating again acting strangely over the usual mumbo jumbo from Greg pollock that Brian himself does not understand. Oh dear….

          Reply to Comment
    6. Giner Eis

      To those still too confused (to even find the correct reply button), I will attempt to simplify my post even further in this manner:

      Proposition I: (a) Death penalty; (b) but still: Rise in murder-rate; therefore (c) death penalty not-deterrent. (That summarizes the orthodoxy represented by Ms. Sheindlin). Lets apply that logic to Proposition II.

      Proposition II: (a) (life) imprisonment (b) but STILL: rise in murder-rate, therefore (c) imprisonment not deterrent;

      If you reject the validity of “Proposition II”, you must by necessity reject the validity of “Proposition I”. If you accept the validity of “Proposition I”, you must by necessity accept the validity of “Proposition II”. There are no other options! Whatever result you get contradicts Ms. Sheindlin and the orthodoxy. Shouting “No” while not understanding the argument and not even addressing the point makes you an unworthy co-debater.

      Math does not lie!

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ginger Eis

      Mr. Greg Pollock,

      I will attempt to simplify my post even further in this manner:

      Proposition I: (a) Death penalty; (b) but still: Rise in murder-rate; therefore (c) death penalty not-deterrent. (That summarizes the orthodoxy represented by Ms. Sheindlin). Lets apply that logic to Proposition II.

      Proposition II: (a) (life) imprisonment (b) but STILL: rise in murder-rate, therefore (c) imprisonment not deterrent;

      If you reject the validity of “Proposition II”, you must by necessity reject the validity of “Proposition I”. If you accept the validity of “Proposition I”, you must by necessity accept the validity of “Proposition II”. There are no other options! Whatever result you get contradicts Ms. Sheindlin and the orthodoxy. Shouting “No” while not understanding the argument and not even addressing the point makes you an unworthy co-debater.

      Math does not lie!

      Reply to Comment