As Israel looks to jail stone-throwers up to 20 years, soldiers search home of a boy who accidentally dropped a marble.
Silwan, Jerusalem – It is early morning, and Kinan Jaber, who turns two in January, is riding around the family’s two-bedroom apartment on a bike that a relative brought him from the United States.
Normally Kinan would be pedalling his tricycle out on the balcony, but an incident two days prior left him confined to the indoors. On Friday, while playing, Kinan threw a marble that found its way down the narrow, trash-strewn alleyway below. It landed on the head of an Israeli soldier patrolling the area.
Forces subsequently searched the Jaber family home looking for the culprit, whom they accused of throwing stones. But when they checked all the rooms, all they found was a toddler and his mother, said Kinan’s father, Asad Jaber, who works as a security guard at Silwan’s Latin Monastery.
“The boy was playing, and he obviously couldn’t see who or what was down below,” said his mother, Heba Ghaith, 26. “The soldiers wouldn’t believe that he was the only child in the house.”
They next turned to the apartment below, where Jaber’s brother lives with his wife and three children, the eldest of whom is a 9-year-old called Ezzedine al-Qassam.
“The soldiers were fuming when they found out my nephew’s name,” Jaber, 34, told Al Jazeera. Al-Qassam is a British Mandate-era Muslim preacher whose name was adopted by Hamas’ military wing.
The soldiers asked if Jaber’s nephew had any stones in his pocket. “All they found were coloured Mentos,” he added, referring to a brand of chewy candy.
The Jabers said the incident was the latest in what they called “a series of army provocations in Silwan”, where tension has been mounting in recent weeks, after Israeli settlers moved into two neighbourhood buildings.
The apprehension is palpable here, with soldiers regularly patrolling rooftops to keep an eye on the streets below, while policemen on the ground search vehicles.
The area, which has been neglected by Israeli authorities for years, has recently been subject to increasing settlement, facilitated by efforts of right-wing groups to buy up homes through a variety of covert means, including Palestinian middlemen or forged documents.
This has ramped up the spate of stone-throwing incidents in the neighbourhood – located just south of the Old City walls – and in the rest of East Jerusalem, including incidents targeting the light rail and public buses.
In an attempt to crack down on stone throwers, the Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved an amendment to the country’s criminal law that, if passed by the Knesset, would toughen punishments for those who throw objects at vehicles. This change could mean prison sentences of up to 20 years. The proposed law must first go to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, followed by three Knesset votes.
If the bill goes through, it would allow for a punishment of 10 years in prison for throwing objects at a moving vehicle. If it is proved that the offender meant to cause harm to the driver or passenger, then they could face up to 20 years in prison.
Hurling objects at police or their vehicles would carry five years. Under the existing law, the state must prove that a stone-thrower intended to cause harm.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the legislation would help restore security and calm to Jerusalem, where the spiral of violence has been intensifying since July, when a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was burned alive in apparent revenge for the killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank.
“Israel is taking vigorous action against terrorists and those who throw stones, fire bombs and fireworks,” Netanyahu said. “I have ordered that massive reinforcements be brought in and that additional means be used in order to ensure law and order in Israel’s capital.”
If passed, the law would only affect Israeli citizens or residents, which include East Jerusalemites; West Bank Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law. While the amendment addresses stone-throwers in general, the vast majority of those tend to be Palestinian minors.
Israeli authorities challenged the view that the draft law is mostly an attempt to crack down on young Palestinians venting against the Israeli occupation.
“It’s not an overreaction,” Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, told Al Jazeera. “It’s a strategic decision, by Israeli police, border police, in conjunction with the municipality, that after weeks of constant disturbances – by people who are part of the communities, and have taken the law into their own hands – that it’s about time we cracked down and prevented those incidents [from] taking place.”
The unrest in Jerusalem heightened on October 29 following the attempted assassination of Yehuda Glick, a right-wing advocate for the building of a Jewish “Third Temple” on the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount) compound.
The Palestinian man who allegedly shot Glick was himself killed following the incident, and the Noble Sanctuary was subsequently closed for the first time since 2000.
A week earlier, a Palestinian man rammed his car into a group of people leaving a rail station in Jerusalem. Two people, including a three-month-old Israeli girl, were killed.
The two incidents came on the heels of a 50-day war in Gaza, and amid frustration over Israel’s continued settlement activity. Citing security reasons over mounting tensions, authorities have ramped up police presence in the Holy City and imposed age limitations on worshippers going into Al-Aqsa mosque.
Back at the Jaber home, Kinan is becoming restless, whining about wanting to go out on the balcony to bike. His father, trying to distract him with another toy, jokes: “If this law passes and Kinan gets convicted for stone-throwing, he’d be out by the time he’s 22.”