Once in the History of Israel: Ben-Gvir’s Announcement Brings ‘Capital Punishment’ Back to the Forefront


The Israeli National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has reignited the debate on implementing the death penalty in Israel. While Israeli law allows its execution in certain cases, it has been practically applied only once since the establishment of the state in 1948.

The National Security Minister announced that a Knesset committee would discuss a bill to impose the death penalty on “terrorists” before its first reading in the Knesset plenum.

On Saturday evening, the Israeli minister wrote on platform X that the Knesset’s National Security Committee would discuss the bill the following Monday.

Israel prides itself in international forums on its “restraint” in not using the death penalty and has consistently voted in favor of United Nations resolutions calling for a halt to its execution, according to Israeli researcher Ron Dudai from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben-Gurion University.

However, right-wing politicians have long pushed for a law imposing the death penalty on perpetrators of terrorist attacks, but these attempts have failed due to a lack of sufficient support and legal issues, as reported by Times of Israel.

Ben-Gvir threatened after a synagogue attack in Jerusalem in January that anyone who kills or harms civilians should be sent to the electric chair. He then promised to propose a bill to apply the death penalty to “terrorists” in Israel.

In March, the Israeli parliament preliminarily approved a bill stipulating the death penalty for “terrorists.”

In January 2018, the Knesset preliminarily approved a bill allowing the execution of those convicted of murder in “terrorist” attacks. The proposal was put forward by then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a member of the right-wing nationalist camp.

The Knesset abolished the death penalty for murder in criminal cases in 1954. However, it still theoretically approves it for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, high treason, or crimes against the Jewish people, according to Agence France-Presse.

The only execution carried out in Israel was in 1962 against Nazi Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust.

The US Department of Justice says the penalty was abolished in 1954 for “humanitarian, liberal, and progressive” reasons, but the death penalty is stipulated for murders under the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law and the Genocide Crimes Law. Courts can impose other penalties under certain circumstances.

Times of Israel reports that theoretically, the law allows for the death penalty in cases of high treason and under certain circumstances by military law applied by the Israeli army in the West Bank, but it is not implemented.

Ron Dudai from Ben-Gurion University says that after occupying Palestinian territories in 1967, Israel declared that the military courts it established there could impose the death penalty.

However, since then, the policy of all successive governments has been to avoid implementing it. This policy is driven by two main sources of restraint: first, the security establishment’s advice that executions would not have a deterrent effect and would likely lead to an escalation of violence; second, concern that imposing and executing the death penalty would harm Israel’s international standing. University of Oxford.

Dudai explains that right-wing politicians’ demands to apply the death penalty to Palestinians have long been part of the public discourse in Israel.

Several bills have been introduced to change the policy on imposing the penalty, but the situation remains unchanged to date.


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