Israel set to approve harsher measures against Palestinian stonethrowers

The Israeli government is set to approve increased security measures against Palestinian stone-throwers in east Jerusalem, including the usage of live fire – condemned by human rights watchdog as “illegal and immoral.”

JERUSALEM (SEPTEMBER 20, 2015) (REUTERS) – Israeli cabinet was set to approve further increased security measures against Palestinian stone-throwers in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday (September 20).

“Stones and firebombs are deadly weapons; they kill and have killed. Therefore, in recent days we have changed the open-fire orders for police in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said at the start of a special cabinet session aimed at discussing new measures in the wake of a fresh violence in and around Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa compound.

“Already over the weekend they used the new measures under the new orders and immediately hit those throwing stones and firebombs. Today we will facilitate an additional expansion of the ability of the police to foil the throwing of stones and firebombs and we will continue to add forces in order to strike at rioters,” he said.

Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s intention to maintain the long-standing status quo at the site, where Jewish access is permitted but Jewish prayer banned.

“Israel will maintain the status quo. It will act responsibly, but with determination, to ensure that the existing arrangements are maintained. 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 to explosive and widespread violence,” he added.

Tensions have been high for the past week and Israel deployed hundreds of extra police in the heart of Jerusalem and adjacent Arab neighbourhoods, following clashes at al-Aqsa Mosque and Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli cars.

The focus of tension is the compound housing al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest places in Islam. Jews refer to the area as Temple Mount, where two ancient Jewish temples once stood. It is the most sacred place in Judaism.

The violence was fuelled and further clashes broke out after Friday prayers (September 18) over the Israeli plan to allow police and soldiers to open fire on anyone seen throwing stones at Israeli vehicles.

One such attack led to the death of an Israeli driver in Jerusalem. Cars travelling on a highway that cuts through the West Bank have also been targeted.

An Israeli human rights watchdog, B’Tselem, warned the consequences of allowing usage of live fire against stone-throwers, saying it could lead to further bloodshed.

“Allowing security forces to use live ammunition in confrontations in east Jerusalem is expected to lead to lethal consequences. We expect there to be more bloodshed. an increase in the cycle of violence, not a reduction in the cycle of violence. It appears that the Israeli government is hellbent on using force and only force in dealing with a very complicated situation in east Jerusalem,” Sarit Michaeli, B’Tselem spokeswoman, told Reuters.

She said there was a gradual erosion in restrictions on opening of fire in the West Bank and said they fear it will happen in Jerusalem and condemned the stepped up measures as “illegal and immoral.”

“Of course there’s is no doubt that the Israeli authorities have to protect the public, have to maintain law and order in east Jerusalem as well as in other places. However, this kind of approach, with force and only force on the agenda, including collective punishment, including a very heavy-handed policing attitude, we think is illegal and also immoral. The government needs to deal with underlying root causes of the situation in east Jerusalem, not just with its manifestations,” she said.

Israel this year increased prison terms for those caught throwing stones to up to 20 years, but this has had little impact, prompting Netanyahu to propose allowing direct fire at perpetrators.

There are also discussions about imposing heavy fines on the parents of youths caught stone-throwing, a common form of Palestinian opposition to Israeli occupation, particularly during the Intifada, or uprising, in the 1980s.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has spoken to leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to raise his concerns about Israel’s actions at al-Aqsa, which he sees as an attempt to change the status quo at the site.

Israeli officials in turn accuse Palestinian leaders of inciting violence against Jewish visitors and say Palestinians are not respecting the status quo by attempting to prevent access by non-Muslims.

Elsewhere, in the West Bank city of Jenin, Palestinian witnesses said an Israeli military force conducted an arrest raid, detaining three Palestinians, one of them was wounded.

Reuters video footage showed Israeli troops detaining a Palestinian man in a Jenin neighbourhood. The force was being chased up by Palestinian stone-throwers as it left the scene, the video showed.

The army had no immediate comment.