The heads of Habayit Hayehudi have launched a despicable campaign. Since the attack in Halamish they have been ranting and raving about the military justice system, trampling on the separation of powers and tweeting demands for the death penalty for the terrorist who was captured alive. “The murderers of children and families deserve death,” tweeted Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. As if we weren’t talking about cabinet members, one the justice minister and the other the education minister, but rather a couple of unknown online commentators.
Only two people have ever been executed in Israel. The first was an Israel Defense Forces officer, Meir Tobianski, who was convicted of espionage in a drumhead trial a month after the state was declared, even though he was innocent. The second was Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust. Those are the proportions.
No murderer, even in the most heinous crime, terror attack or criminal case, has ever been executed here. The claim by Naftali Bennett and Shaked that military law allows for the death penalty and “all that’s needed is to ask” is lame disingenuousness. The death penalty is a dead letter in Israeli law, both civilian and military. Prosecutors haven’t asked for it in years.
The entire Western world got rid of the death penalty 20 years ago, except for the United States, and even there the number of executions has been dropping. Even international courts, in which people are prosecuted for horrific cases of genocide, don’t have the death penalty. Where is it widely utilized? In Iran, China and other police states. Bennett and Shaked are well aware of this. After all, only two years ago they voted along with 92 other MKs against the death penalty for terrorists.
The death penalty is irreversible and it has already been proven the world over that there are many blunders in the process that leads to executions, including, as noted, here in Israel. In the United States, clear discrimination has also been proven against minorities and the poor in the meting out of death sentences.
But all these arguments, as important as they are, are dwarfed by the moral issue: Execution, murder by law, is one of the worst injustices in human society. I have no affection or mercy for the murderer, which is why I don’t want to become one. Cries of “death, death” are a beastly display that leaves a bad echo. It’s the same with the hateful campaign against the soldier who “only” neutralized the terrorist at Halamish, but didn’t kill him. This has nothing to do with the war against terror. This is bloodlust, as if there isn’t enough blood and death in the world. When the mother of the soldier said, “We are not murderers, we are defenders,” she’s right. This woman and her son are role models. By contrast, Bennett and Shaked are whipping up violent feelings. .
There is no point in asking whether the death penalty is a deterrent – which it isn’t, by the way. Even the terrorist in this case wanted to die. But let’s say it is a deterrent – so what? That means that it’s right? Let’s say we discover that killing a person’s whole family would be a deterrent, would we pass a law to kill the families of criminals? What if destroying a whole village deters? In confronting murder and killing, we must act according to a different, worthy and moral code.
We must eliminate the death penalty entirely. A religious person might say that decrees of death are in the hands of God, not in human hands. I think that it’s absolutely in human hands, and each person much choose whether to be a human being or to lose all semblance of humanity.
Those who presume to lead a party called The Jewish Home, and which talks incessantly about Judaism, ought to know that the Jews were the first in the world to do away with the death penalty. The Sanhedrin was authorized to sentence violators to death, but rarely did so. “Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva state, ‘If we had been on the Sanhedrin, no one would ever have been executed,’” (Tractate Makot). During the Second Temple era the Sanhedrin refused to hear capital cases, and since then the death penalty has effectively been abolished in Israel. That’s our heritage, that’s our Jewish pride. Do they want to restore the gallows here?
Leave killing to the Angel of Death. He has his hands full. We will concentrate on life.
Published in Ha'aretz.