Posted by Nisreen Eadeh on September 30, 2015 in Blog

Last Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with officials to discuss the proposed changes to police force rules of engagement for stone and firebomb throwers. Netanyahu’s plan includes three parts, which are to use live ammunition, impose minimum sentencing, and financially penalize the parents of stone and firebomb throwers. These changes came in reaction to the increased clashes occurring in Jerusalem and the West Bank for the past two weeks. During these altercations, Palestinians have been throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at cars and Israeli police presumably in response to increased Israeli efforts to exert control over Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Previously, Israeli forces were only allowed to open fire when their lives were in danger. Now, Netanyahu has declared a “war on stone throwers,” allowing forces to open fire on anyone who uses, what Netanyahu calls “these deadly and murderous objects” toward another person. Indeed, rock throwing has caused the death of civilians in the past, but this unequal reaction is not only questioned by Palestinians, but Israeli officials, as well. The provisions have been put in place despite Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and his team of legal experts telling Netanyahu that he “cannot change the rules of engagement with live ammunition.” In his opposition to Netanyahu's requested policy change, Weinstein only approved the usage of the non-fatal 0.22 inch Ruger sniper rifles on stone and firebomb throwers, but Netanyahu still pushed for the use of fatal rounds.

Weinstein also disapproved of the mandatory four-year minimum sentencing of stone and firebomb throwers. In an effort to compromise, Weinstein suggested using the minimum penalties for these offenses during a temporary provision of one to two years to see whether they can actually deter rock throwing. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked disagreed, saying that this plan calls for at least a three-year provision.

Brushing off the opposition, Netanyahu and his cabinet unanimously approved the new rules, claiming “the government is sovereign and it decides, even if it is contrary to the position of the judiciary.” This lack of power balance in Israeli government is alarming for those who fear that these steps will only lead to an increase in Palestinian resistance and thus even harsher punishments in the future for those seen as a threat to Israeli forces and citizens.

The changes to rules of engagement are being criticized by human rights groups and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who says “it leaves Israeli forces with the wide discretion to estimate situations of ‘threat.’” Acting under this guise of sovereignty Israel is expanding its definition of terrorism to include anyone over the age of 12 who throws a rock in defiance of his current living situation – occupation, lack of basic standard of living, restricted movement, constant fear of military incursions, and statelessness. Expanding the use of lethal force by Israeli forces is not the solution to stop stone throwing. Perhaps instead, Israel should consider ending the constant bulldozing of Palestinian homes, which is just continuing to foment the kind of reaction they're ostensibly trying to address.