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Israel: Penalties for Attempting to Cause Grievous Harm by Throwing Stones

(Nov. 19, 2015) On November 2, 2015, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed a temporary amendment to the Penal Law, imposing a minimum statutory penalty for unlawfully attempting to cause serious harm by throwing stones. The conviction of minors on charges for this offense, according to the amendment, will also result in nullifying, for the duration of the incarceration, the portion of benefit payments to the child’s family that would have been paid by the Institute of National Insurance, based on the convicted minor’s eligibility. (Penal Law, 5737-1977, LAWS OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL (Special Volume), as amended); Penal Law (Amendment No. 120 and Temporary Provision), 5776-2015 (Amendment Law), Knesset website (scroll down to appropriate link, in Hebrew).)

The Amendment Law adds “stones” to the list of items with which it is unlawful to “attempt to strike a person” with the intention “to disable, disfigure or do grievous harm to another.” Doing so constitutes an offense of “harm with aggravating intent.” (Penal Law, § 329(a)(2).) Other items on the list include “a projectile, knife or other dangerous or offensive weapon.” (Id.)

The maximum penalty imposed for this offense under the Penal Law is imprisonment for 20 years. The Amendment Law requires that the minimum sentence, to be imposed during the three-year period after the Amendment Law’s passage, must not be less than one-fifth of that period (i.e., four years). Shorter sentences may be imposed by a court for reasons that must be given in writing. The Amendment Law further clarifies that, in the absence of special reasons, the penalty for perpetrating this offense should not be fully probationary. (Id. § 329(c).)

In addition to imprisonment, the Amendment Law affects child benefits paid by the Institute of National Insurance in accordance with the National Insurance (Consolidated Version) Law, 5755-1995 (INI Law) for a child who has been convicted of security offenses or offenses committed based on a motive that is based on extreme nationalism or connected to terrorist activity. Such benefits will not be paid for the duration of the child’s incarceration, nor will he/she be considered for the purpose of calculating benefits under various laws, including the INI Law. (National Insurance (Consolidated Version) 5755-1995, SEFER HAHUKIM [BOOK OF LAWS, Israel’s official gazette] 5758 No. 1522 p. 210, § 325(b-c), as amended.) For the purpose of implementation of these provisions, a child is usually defined as a minor less than 18 years of age, with soldiers and volunteers for national service qualifying as children until the ages of 20 and 24, respectively, as appropriate. (Id. § 238.)

According to explanatory notes on the Amendment Law bill, the addition of stones to the means by which “harm with aggravating intent” can be perpetrated merely clarifies what had already been recognized by the Supreme Court: that a stone may, under specific circumstances, “have the potential of causing injury and may be considered ‘a dangerous or harmful weapon’ as required under the provision [329(a)(2)].” (Penal Law (Amendment and Temporary Provision) Bill, 5776-2015, Government Bills No. 958, p. 84, Knesset website (scroll down to appropriate link, in Hebrew).)

According to the explanatory notes, the setting of minimum penalties is an exception in Israeli criminal legislation. Temporarily imposing such penalties, the notes explain, was necessitated by “the exceptional nature of the phenomenon [of stone throwing], its uniqueness, and its extent, which has expanded recently … .” (Id.)