Death Penalty in Israel – Should we make a new law? Why not?

by Tzvi Szajnbrum on May 2, 2011

by Tzvi Szajnbrum, Attorney at Law

“There’s no need for the Death Penalty because we already have one in Israel.” Actually, there is more than one law regarding the Death Penalty in Israel.

The only time we used this law in the State of Israel to actually hang someone, was in The State of Israel v’ Adolph Eichman the Nazi, in the 60’s. The law that permits such punishment is: Nazis and Nazi Collaborators – Israeli Penal Law – 5710-1950.

Since then, the State of Israel has tried another Nazi under the same law in “The State of Israel v’ Ivan John Demjanjuk” (Criminal Case – Jerusalem 373/86) and found him guilty. He was therefore sentenced to death on April 25, 1988. This decision was reversed by the Supreme Court on July 20, 1993 and the accused was released and returned to the United States.

In fact, this is not the only law that allows the Death Penalty. Seldom do the Judges in the territories find the accused/defendant (always guerillas who committed acts of terror against the State of Israel and its citizens) guilty, therefore sentencing him to death. Please note: these are not Military Courts.

So far, none of these decisions has been put into practice and not one terrorist, in spite of all the crimes he might have committed, has been hanged in Israel.

The reasons are both political and legal. First, in order to put the Death Penalty into effect, the decision must be a unanimous vote, by a minimum of 3 judges. Not only is a majority vote required but a unanimous decision is imperative.

Second, the Commander in Chief of the area (a General in his rank) can, if he so wishes, discard the court decision. The commander does not have to agree to the court decision. He has the prerogative to avoid the actual sentence, he is not obligated to consent. Therefore, the accused will serve a life sentence but not be given the Death Penalty.

Last but not least are the political ramifications (which, due to international pressure is certain to come if the Death Penalty is exercised). The political system is very powerful and there are many options to stop such a court decision.

It is a well-known fact that we are a fragile democracy (as said by the former Chief Justice, Mr. Aaron Barak), as such we must use every means to defend ourselves and our citizens. All this can still be done as we’ve seen, without actual need for the Death Penalty but this may change in the future.

There is no Death Sentence for criminals in our Penal Code no matter how heinous the crime.

Tzvi Szajnbrum, Attorney at Law

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