Capital punishment in Israel

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In Israel, capital punishment is allowed only during and only for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, treason and certain crimes under military law during wartime, and crimes against the Jewish people. The current Arab-Israel conflict is considered a war, and the committing of any of the crimes can result in the death penalty. Israel inherited the British Mandate of Palestine code of law, which included the death penalty for several offenses, but in 1954, Israel abolished the penalty for murder.

Although a legal option under Israeli law, Israel does not use the death penalty. The last execution was carried out in 1962, and no death sentences have been sought since the 1990s.

History[edit]

Israel's rare use of the death penalty may in part be due to Jewish religious law.[1] Biblical law explicitly mandates the death penalty for 36 offenses, from murder and adultery to idolatry and desecration of the Sabbath. However, in Ancient Israel, the death penalty was rarely carried out. Jewish scholars since the beginning of the common era have developed such restrictive rules to prevent execution of the innocent that the death penalty has become de facto illegal. Moses Maimonides argued that executing a defendant on anything less than absolute certainty would lead to a slippery slope of decreasing burdens of proof, until we would be convicting merely "according to the judge's caprice". His concern was maintaining popular respect for law, and he saw errors of commission as much more threatening than errors of omission.[2] Conservative Jewish religious leaders and scholars believe that the death penalty should remain unused, even in extreme cases such as political assassination.[3]

When the modern state of Israel was established in 1948, it inherited the British Mandate's legal code, with a few adjustments, and thus, capital punishment remained on the books. During the Israeli War of Independence, the first execution took place after Meir Tobianski, an Israeli army officer, was falsely accused of espionage, subjected to a drumhead court martial, and found guilty. He was executed by firing squad, but later posthumously exonerated.

The first death sentences imposed by an Israeli civil court, against two Arabs who had been found guilty of murder, were confirmed by an appeals court in November 1949, but the sentences were commuted to life imprisonment by President Chaim Weizmann, due to his opposition to the death penalty.[4]

In the early years of Israel's history, death sentences were occasionally imposed for murder, but none were carried out. In 1951, the Israeli cabinet proposed that the death penalty be abolished.[5][6]

In 1954, the Knesset voted to abolish the death penalty for the crime of murder.[7] The death penalty was retained for war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and treason and certain crimes under military law during wartime.

In 1962, the second execution and only civil execution in Israel took place when Adolf Eichmann was hanged after he was convicted in 1961 of participation in Nazi war crimes relating to the Holocaust, was the only person to have been civilly executed in Israel.

Throughout the following decades, death sentences were occasionally handed down to those convicted of terrorist offenses, but these sentences were always commuted. In 1988, John Demjanjuk was sentenced to death after being convicted of Nazi war crimes, but his conviction was later overturned on appeal. In the mid-1990s, the practice of seeking the death penalty for those facing terrorism charges ceased.[8]

In the aftermath of the Itamar attack in 2011, the issue of the death penalty briefly came up again. IDF prosecutors were expected to seek the death penalty for the perpetrators,[8] but in the end did not. Even so, the judges seriously considered imposing the death penalty when considering the sentence of one of the perpetrators, but decided not to, as the prosecution had not requested it.[9]

Executed people[edit]

Executed person Date of execution Crime(s) Under President Method
1 Meir Tobianski June 30, 1948 Treason (posthumously exonerated) Chaim Weizmann Firing squad
2 Adolf Eichmann May 31, 1962 Crimes against humanity and war crimes, crimes against the Jewish people and membership of an outlawed organization involving the murder of many Jews. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi Hanging

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