If Israel was serious about restoring security to its capital, it would recognize the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem and find a way for all residents to live in dignity.
Trying to make good on his promise to restore quiet in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his cabinet approved an amendment to Israel’s penal code on Sunday, which would prescribe up to 20 years in prison for someone caught throwing stones at a vehicle (and 10 without having to prove intent to cause harm).
Currently, Palestinians convicted in Israeli civil courts of throwing stones receive around two years in jail, so if this is enforced, it would be a significant increase in degree of severity. While in theory such a law would apply to Israeli citizens, the country’s history of discrimination and granting settler impunity, it is hard to imagine Israeli Jews will be more than nominally affected. While the amendment still needs to pass through committee and three Knesset votes, the message of the bill is clear: a Palestinian caught throwing a stone will go away for a long, long time.
While the potential law would apply to all citizens of Israel, it is clearly directed at Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem — occupied, annexed and ruled under Israeli civil law. A similar law is already in place in the West Bank, which under direct Israeli military occupation is governed by Israeli military law. This strengthens the notion that Israel is looking to treat East Jerusalem Palestinians more like it treats West Bank Palestinians.
Whether or not the bill goes through, the Israeli government’s approach to the intensifying unrest in Jerusalem is clearly designed to, as Netanyahu put it, “[take] vigorous action against terrorists and those who throw stones, fire bombs and fireworks…in order to restore quiet and security throughout Jerusalem. I have ordered that massive reinforcements be brought in [to Jerusalem] and that additional means be used in order to ensure law and order in Israel’s capital.”
The Israeli security establishment sincerely believes that it will be able to put a stop to Palestinian resistance by placing more Palestinians — many of them minors — behind bars. While that may solve the problem in the immediate short-term (and even that is doubtful, as riots have only increased despite the arrest of over 700 people since the start of the summer), history and common sense show it will do nothing for the security of Israeli Jews in the long-term.
Since the First Intifada in the late 1980s, thousands of Palestinian men have sat in Israeli jails — many of them more than once. This has not proven to be a long-term deterrent of Palestinian resistance – whether armed or unarmed. Arguably the most popular leader of the Palestinian people is Marwan Barghouti, serving five life sentences in Israeli prison for his involvement in armed Palestinian resistance and terror. Muataz Hejazi, who allegedly shot Rabbi Yehuda Glick at point blank range last week, spent 11 years in Israeli prison, and according to reports, his violent behavior only got worse during his imprisonment. Abd al-Rahman al-Shaloudi, who rammed his car into a group of people at a light rail station in Jerusalem, killing a three-month-old and a woman a week earlier, also did time in Israeli prison.
While I am in no way condoning these acts of violence, Israeli authorities have not convinced me that what they are doing will bring any calm or safety to Jerusalem or any other territory under its control. They certainly don’t seem to be taking into account the adverse effects putting young Palestinians in Israeli jail for years for throwing a single stone has on them and their families.
There is no reason to think Palestinians will give up on their claims to East Jerusalem, to self-determination, to freedom and human rights after being dealt an even heavier hand by the entity occupying them. It has been nearly half a century and they haven’t done so yet. It’s pretty obvious that compromise, sacrifice and agreement are the only way to put a stop to it once and for all.
Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who wrote an op-ed in Haaretz in April 2013 explaining the act of stone throwing and defending the Palestinian right to resist occupation, said it best:
Often hurling stones is borne of boredom, excessive hormones, mimicry, boastfulness and competition. But in the inner syntax of the relationship between the occupier and the occupied, stone-throwing is the adjective attached to the subject of “We’ve had enough of you, occupiers.”
In an interview with Democracy Now!, she went on to explain why it is so problematic to see Palestinians as violent and Israelis as victims:
Any hegemonic group, sees its hegemony, and the violence it uses, as self-evident, as a natural thing. And we do everything possible to protect this hegemony…Palestinians have tried many ways, diplomatic ways and others to resist Israeli domination and it has not succeeded. Stone throwing is a message, and the Israelis don’t listen to it. Twenty-five years ago in the first Intifada, Israelis did listen – they did understand it’s a message — not in order to kill or hit somebody but to tell, you are unwelcome visitors in our midst.
If Israel was serious and pragmatic about “restoring security to Jerusalem,” it would once and for all recognize the Palestinians’ claim to East Jerusalem as their capital, find ways to end the occupation and find a way for everyone to live in the city equally. At the very least it would invest in East Jerusalem’s infrastructure and schools — even while continuing to be the occupying force. But it is doing neither. Instead, it is deepening its control and amping up its means of violence, whose only realistic outcome is more stone throwing. That will lead to more arrests, which, based on experience, will only lead to more violence.