The killing of three family members from Halamish settlement last July reignited the debate over the death penalty for terrorists.
Likud party MK Navah Boker took up the task of amending the existing death penalty law, that was never exercised apart from the execution of Adolf Eichmann in 1962. Boker was encouraged by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Liebermann, who both expressed their wish that the Halamish terrorist be executed.
Defending her legislation proposal, Boker said, “I have no doubt that the death penalty for terrorists, along with other measures, is a real deterrent that helps Israel defeat terror. It is time to stop our sycophantic behavior toward terror and toward our enemies. It is important that the terrorist’s family that sends its son to murder will know that he will receive the most severe penalty, instead of spending years in four-star hotel Israeli prisons, only to be released in some kind of a deal to return and murder innocent civilians.”
Boker refers to the intolerable reality where hundreds of terrorists are released in controversial deals for the return of one Israeli soldier, dead or alive. Many of these terrorists, got a free education in prison and hero status in Palestinian society, immediately go back to killing Israelis.
Israel complains bitterly of the Palestinian “revolving door” policy, whereby it locks up Palestinian terrorists only to release them later. And yet, Israel ends up doing the exact same thing.
Considering itself as an “enlightened” democracy, Israel sees the death penalty as contradicting the value of human dignity. A leading ethics professor, Assa Kasher, expounded: “A democratic country is allowed to kill enemies in war or in terror acts only when it has no other choice.” Kasher concluded that as a matter of principle, democratic countries should not execute convicted terrorists, or anybody else for that matter, so that the idea of human dignity is guarded under any given circumstance. He added that research from around the world has shown that the deterrent factor of the death penalty is negligible, particularly when considering the desire of Muslims to die for Islam’s sake.
Likud MK David Bitan supports the death penalty because he, too, resents the anomaly of terrorists receiving deluxe prison conditions that encourage others to kill Israelis, rather than deter them. “Sentencing terrorists to death,” he says, “is not only a necessity – it is also a moral demand.” The death penalty, he continues, is first of all a punishment, one that can deter potential murderers and could stop the cycle kidnapping soldiers as bargaining chips for jailed prisoners.
Bitan puts his finger on the moral divide characterizing Israeli society. As things stand today, most Israelis still go along with Kasher’s assumptions. Like him, they believe that the death penalty is immoral. This position contradicts the age-old Jewish moral code, which states, “If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first.” This admonishment applies not only to a person actively trying to kill another, but also to one who has already killed, and will kill again.
Tragically, however, the enlightened moral code that prohibits the death penalty only serves to increase bloodshed, simply because when eliminating the “anti-life” element for the sake of the living is considered immoral, anti-life abounds.