Death penalty
Death penaltyiStock

Tomorrow it will be two weeks since a few hours prior to the arrival of last Shabbos we received word of the horrific terror attack on the shul in the Neve Yaakov area of Jerusalem. You’ve no doubt read that it was the worst such attack perpetrated in Israel since 2008. Sadly, despite the passage of all those years, Israel is all too well-acquainted with this wanton murder that targets innocents.

There is unfortunately an evil in the world that holds an edge over all that is good and well about this world that G-d created. Now, with a new right-leaning government in place in Israel, the response to this type of action will be swift and expeditious and do what it is supposed to do—deter families from encouraging their young people to murder Jews to reap both the real and imaginary rewards that await them.

In the past, after other events of this type, the policy was to isolate the homes of the terrorists who took the act of murder upon themselves and destroy the homes, thereby rendering whoever else lived there homeless. Very often those cases took years to wind their way through the Israeli courts and the case was often forgotten, with only a ceremonial or superficial version of the decision to punish being implemented.

But that is thankfully no longer the case in Israel. On Sunday - just two days after the murders in Neve Yaakov, the bulldozers were out and the business of demolishing the murderer’s home was under way. While they were at it, by the way, Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir ordered other illegal Arab homes in East Jerusalem to be leveled as well.

The killings on Friday night after davening in Neve Yaakov did not occur in a vacuum. The new Netanyahu government in Israel is determined to implement stricter policies that can work only if done properly and without compromise. That essentially translates to: as long the murder of Jews is celebrated as a great feat in Palestinian Arab areas, that impacts on the number of people from those areas who are allowed into Israel to work on a daily basis.

A military crackdown, as has been the case in the past, is an extreme measure that unfortunately is accompanied by a series of additional problems. In the interim, until that becomes an imperative, the right way to go is to crack down with other forms of monetary hardships that will shift the responsibility to the UN, the U.S., and the Europeans who are consistent about always being critical of Israel and believing that failed policies of the last half-century are the solution to what is going on in those areas.

As the matter stands today, there is just no deterrent to a young Palestinian Arab taking up a gun or even a knife to commit the murder of Jews. On the contrary, they are encouraged to do so and stand to be financially rewarded, along with their extended family. There is one level of financial reward for injuring Jews and a higher amount for murder.

To this point, over all these years, the Israeli government has not figured out a way to stop this mad cycle of what is referred to as “pay to slay.” Additionally, these terrorist families are compensated with money provided to the PA by the US and the Europeans.

Taylor Force was a U.S. army veteran from Texas who was murdered by an Arab terrorist in Tel Aviv in March 2016. The killer mistook him for a Jew and stabbed him repeatedly until he died. There was outrage here in the U.S. until the passage of the Taylor Force Act, which forbids the U.S. to transfer financial aid to the PA until the PA stops supporting the families of murderers.

The act was passed into law in March 2018. Since then it has been completely ignored by the State Department and U.S. officials.

The U.S. looks the other way as they provide hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority believing that they are paying them to keep the region quiet. But the only thing that is quiet is the fashion in which money is paid monthly to the families of murderers, rewarding those who have murdered and serving as an incentive for those thinking about it.

One of the things that Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir would like to do is to implement the death penalty for those convicted of murder. No matter where it is in the world, the threat of a looming death sentence has to be looked at differently than a life sentence in an Israeli prison that features tennis courts and soccer fields along with a monthly stipend and a living wage for the family of the imprisoned killer.

Over last Shabbos I was reading about the case of Sayfullo Saipov, a 34- year-old native of Uzbekistan who drove a truck onto a Hudson River bike path here in New York, which resulted in the death of eight people. You might recall the case. Saipov was convicted by a federal grand jury and is now facing the death penalty. The jury will reconvene to decide whether Saipov should be executed or serve the rest of his life in prison.

The surprising aspect of this case is that the death penalty was considered as a punishment upon conviction while Donald Trump was president and Bill Barr was attorney general. The terror attack on the bike path was the worst attack on American soil since 9/11. After Joe Biden was elected president, Saipov’s attorney wrote to the president and Attorney General Merrick Garland, requesting that the death penalty be withdrawn as a possible punishment. Surprisingly, Garland decided that the government can continue to pursue capital punishment. The penalty portion of the trial began on February 6.

Imposing capital punishment on a murderer like Saipov would not just be proper punishment but would send a stern message to other would-be terrorists who believe there is no value to American lives. In a twist, while the terror attack that took place in 2017 did result in the death of two Americans (New Yorkers), tourists visiting the city from Argentina and Belgium were also killed.

It was a beautiful late autumn afternoon when Saipov drove his truck onto the West Side bike path aiming to kill as a way of pledging his allegiance to ISIS. Whether the delay in the trial was because of the pandemic or not, a lot of time has passed and the barbarity of the crime has been largely forgotten, except by the families of the victims. At the end of the process, it is seriously unlikely that liberals like Garland and Biden will allow a terrorist being tried in New York to be executed.

The point is this: if the AG in the U.S.—where, thankfully, terror attacks are rare—can keep the death penalty in play for terrorists, Israel certainly should be doing that. Israel experiences terror attacks of some form on a daily basis. They can be isolated shootings or stabbings, and then on occasion we have what took place on Friday night—the mass murder of seven Jews and the injuring of others as they were leaving shul to go home for a routine Shabbos dinner.

No sooner does a day or two pass that Netanyahu hears from a European leader like French President Emmanuel Macron who talks about the cycle of violence and de-escalation. It’s an illegitimate claim and request, and to add to it, the French leader is advocating for a smaller Israel, a division of Jerusalem, and two states, one of them being controlled by dictatorial terrorists.

The idea of evenhandedness cannot work when dealing with terror. Terrorism needs to be defeated. The IDF has the ability to make the PA and Hamas in Gaza beg for peace and quiet. But at the urging of the State Department and Europe, Israel is instructed to fight the terrorists to a draw. That is, defend yourself but not to the point of victory.

While that dance is taking place, innocent people, like those coming out of shul on Friday night in Neve Yaakov, lose their lives. Whether it is in Jerusalem or on a bike path in Manhattan, agents of destruction need to be definitively defeated.

Ben Gvir has said that he is for the death penalty for terrorists and expulsion from Israel—including Judea and Samaria—of the families who support and facilitate their acts of terror.

If that is implemented one time, terror attacks will be halved. If Israel is serious about protecting her people, the leaders would get down to business on these matters and for the first time in 70 years terror attacks will dwindle to a fraction of what they are today.

This is the Israeli government that can get this done. Neve Yaakov should be the turning point.

Larry Gordon is editor in chief of the Five Towns Jewish Times.