Capital punishment in Israel

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In Israel, capital punishment is allowed only during wartime and only for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, treason, 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 during peacetime with the exception of the said crimes.


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 when Meir Tobianski, an Israeli army officer, was falsely accused of espionage and executed by firing squad following a drumhead court martial. He was later posthumously exonerated.

In the early years of Israel's history, death sentences were occasionally imposed, but the government did not carry any of them out. In 1951, the Israeli cabinet proposed that the death penalty be abolished.[4][5]

In 1954, the Knesset voted to abolish the death penalty for the crime of murder, but it was retained for Nazi war crimes, certain crimes under military law, and crimes against the state.[6]

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 accused of terrorism ceased.[7]

In the aftermath of the Itamar attack in 2011, the judges seriously considered imposing the death penalty on the perpetrators, but decided not to, as the prosecution had not requested it.[8]

Executed people[edit]

Executed person Date of execution Crime(s) Under President Method
1 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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