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Knesset passes law increasing penalty for desecrating Israeli flag

July 19, 2016 5:12 P.M. (Updated: July 20, 2016 12:03 P.M.)
Palestinian protesters burn an Israeli flag during clashes in Bethlehem on Oct. 13, 2015. (MaanImages/Sheren Khalel, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Posing heightened risks for Palestinian protesters within the occupied territory, the Israeli Knesset approved a law on Monday which significantly increased the penalty for defacing or desecrating the Israeli flag, or anything the state rules as “offensive behavior” towards its flag.

The Israeli Knesset said in a statement that the new legislation has set the maximum sentence for “offensive behavior” towards the Israeli flag to three years in prison and a fine of 58,400 shekels ($15,100).

Those convicted of the crime could also have a slew of rights revoked, including access to national health care, unemployment benefits, or even higher education scholarships.

There was reportedly little debate leading up to the vote, aside from the alternative proposal by MK Abdullah Abu Maaruf from the Joint List -- which brings together representatives of the Palestinian community in Israel -- to reduce the maximum sentence to one day in jail and to eliminate the fine entirely, which was rejected by the Interior Committee.

Prior to Monday’s ruling, the maximum sentence was a year in jail and a fine of 300 liras -- a currency Israel hasn’t used in decades, with a little to no current value.

The new bill was presented by the Knesset Interior Committee Chairman David Amsalem, a member of the right-wing Likud party, who prefaced his presentation by saying he couldn't “imagine who could even file an objection over this matter,” Haaretz reported.

Amsalem noted that current Israeli law mandates a maximum sentence of three years for someone found guilty of desecrating the flag of a “friendly country” and that he saw it as “a disgrace” that the penalty for doing the same to the Israeli flag was much lower until now.

MK Nova Boker of the Likud party sponsored the bill, saying she wanted to stiffen the punishment for offensive behavior toward the flag because “only via effective legislation against the haters of Israel at home and abroad will we be able to maintain Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.”

Burning Israeli flags during protests and clashes in the occupied Palestinian territories is not an uncommon practice.

Though the frequency of these sort of acts have not been recorded, the new law offers up severe penalties putting Palestinian protesters, already prone to what critics call disproportionate prison sentences for stone throwing, at an even higher risk for imprisonment.
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