Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday plans for tougher penalties against Palestinian rioters who are caught throwing rocks, firebombs and other harmful materials against Israelis.
During the weekly cabinet meeting, the prime minister called for the implementation of mandatory minimum imprisonment sentences of four-to-five years for rock throwing convictions and 10 years for throwing fire bombs or Molotov cocktails. In addition, Netanyahu urged the government to approve the use of more rubber bullets, and even sniper fire, when civilian lives were put at risk.
Netanyahu recognized that new protocols would indeed garner heavy opposition within the current judiciary. However, he said that he was determined to move ahead with “an additional expansion of the police’s ability to foil the throwing of stones and firebombs. With all due respect to the courts, it’s our right and our duty to determine this norm.”
Over the last several weeks, a recent wave of terror has been plaguing the Temple Mount and surrounding areas. Netanyahu condemned the violence, stating, “We can’t accept the principle that in Jerusalem, our capital, or in any other part of Israel, people organize spontaneous terror and start throwing firebombs at cars on the road.”
The Israeli leader pointed a finger at the political bodies that stand behind the violence as being the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and even Turkey.
In response to Netanyahu’s comments urging harsher punishments for rioters, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein declared his opposition to such a move. Weinstein said that he only approved the use of Ruger rifles and not an increase of rubber bullets or live ammunition. He further suggested that mandatory sentences be instituted as a temporary measure only for a year or two, to see if they are an effective deterrent.
The Palestinians have recently claimed that Israel is trying to undermine the status quo on the Temple Mount by beefing up security. Netanyahu has maintained in repeated statements that Israel is committed to retaining the status quo, but to ensuring the safety and security for visitors of all faiths.
Israel “will act responsibly, but with determination, to ensure that the existing arrangements are maintained,” he said. “We have no plans to change them, but we also have no intention of allowing anyone to cause the deterioration of the arrangements on the Temple Mount by resorting to explosive and widespread violence.”
The prime minister also sent a message to those voices in the international community – including the US, Saudi Arabia and Jordan – who have either condemned Israel for the recent spate of violence or for upsetting the status quo.
Netanyahu said international players concerned about the Temple Mount should direct their criticism not at Israel but at the instigators. They should “do best to direct their criticism, not towards Jerusalem, but rather towards Ramallah, Gaza and agitators in the Galilee, and unfortunately, towards Turkey, from where incitement issues forth on a daily, even hourly, basis, not only to throw firebombs, but also something new, bringing explosives and pipe bombs onto the Temple Mount.”
Israel believes Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s allowance of senior Hamas leader Salah al-Arouri to operate in Turkey is the mobilizing force behind numerous terrorist attacks, funneling money to Hamas operatives, and encouraging Palestinian youth to throw rocks and firebombs in the capital.
“Stones and firebombs are deadly weapons; they kill and have killed,” Netanyahu told the cabinet. He went on to add that “Israel will continue to add forces in order to strike at rioters under a simple principle that we will begin to implement around and within our borders: We will hit whoever tries to attack us.”
Police forces in Jerusalem, as well as the Border Police, have already responded to the recent rise in Palestinian violence by calling in backup reservists to restore order and offer protection. Some estimates put the call-up at 5,000 officers.