JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's parliament imposed tougher penalties of up to 20 years prison for people throwing stones at vehicles and roads, a move one Palestinian official branded racist and excessive.
Lawmakers voted 69 to 17 to increase the punishments late on Monday, approving legislation proposed after a wave of Palestinian protests last year in East Jerusalem.
"Tolerance toward terrorists ends today. A stone-thrower is a terrorist and only a fitting punishment can serve as a deterrent and just punishment," Israel's Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, of the far-right Jewish Home party, said in a statement.
Confrontations between Palestinian youths and Israeli police routinely degenerate into violent clashes, and stone-throwing has been a symbol of Palestinian resistance since the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, against Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Since 2011 three Israelis, including a baby and a girl, have been killed in the occupied West Bank after rocks were thrown at vehicles they were in.
Human rights groups have criticized Israel for using excessive force including live fire in suppressing Palestinian demonstrations, causing dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries.
The new law allows for a sentence of up to 20 years in jail for throwing a rock at a vehicle with the intent of causing bodily harm and 10 years in prison if intent was not proven.
Prosecutors in such cases have usually sought sentences of no more than three months in jail when the offense does not result in serious injury.
Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoner Club, an organization that advocates on behalf of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, said the new law was "racist".
"This law is hateful and contradicts the most basic rule that the punishment fit the offense," he said.
The law would cover territory including East Jerusalem, but not the occupied West Bank, most of which is under the jurisdiction of the Israeli military.
Israel hands down about 1,000 indictments a year for rock-throwing, according to the Israeli Knesset.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government faced growing calls to take action after the Palestinian protests in 2014 over the Gaza war and the burning alive of a Palestinian teenager in a suspected revenge attack for the killing of three Israeli teens by Palestinian militants.
During the protests, stones were regularly thrown at the city's light railway.
The new legislation was originally promoted by Shaked's predecessor, centrist Tzipi Livni.
The Palestinians seek a state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014.
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Luke Baker and Andrew Heavens