Israeli lawmakers have passed a new law that will jail children as young as 12 who are convicted of “terrorist offenses,” including murder or manslaughter.
The “Youth Bill” was approved in the wake of repeated attacks by young Palestinians, with a statement from parliament saying the incidents warranted “a more aggressive approach, including toward minors.”
Israeli authorities will now be able to imprison a minor convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder or manslaughter even if they are under 14, the statement said.
“Rather than sending them to prison, Israel would be better off sending them to school where they could grow up in dignity and freedom not under occupation,” Israeli rights group B’Tselem said in a statement. “Imprisoning such young minors denies them the chance of a better future.”
Previously, the law stated that minors under age 14 may not receive a prison sentence.
As the bill was being advanced, lawmakers within the Israeli state pointed to child soldiers in neighboring Syria to buttress their case for the draconian new measures: “Today children are being used (in attacks), and we see children in the Islamic State group cutting off people’s heads,” Israeli minister Anat Berko stated in November, 2015. “This law will give greater security to the citizens of Israel, Jews and Arabs alike.”
Approval of the legislative measure takes place following the high-profile case involving Ahmed Manasra, a 14-year-old Palestinian, who was convicted in May of the attempted murder of two Israelis in a knife attack last October. He was 13 when he carried out the attack and is yet to be sentenced.
Manasra, an East Jerusalem resident, was the youngest Palestinian to be convicted by an Israeli civilian court in the current round of violence.
Violence in the Palestinian and Israeli territories since October has killed at least 218 Palestinians, 34 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese, according to estimates carried out by AFP.
Palestinian youths are frequently shot dead during protests and clashes with security forces. According to the documents revealed by the Palestinian human rights group Adalah that operates within the Israeli state, police forces are now allowed to use lethal force as a first resort against Palestinians who throw stones, firebombs, or fireworks.
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