Charlie Hoyle
Last updated: 19 November, 2014

Two eyes for an eye: Israel reinstates punitive house demolitions

Following a summer of violence in Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West Bank, Israel has reinstated a controversial demolition policy repealed nearly a decade ago.

On Aug. 18, 2014, 23 Palestinians, including 13 children, were left homeless after Israeli forces blew up two buildings in Hebron, located in the southern West Bank.

The first floor of another property was sealed with concrete, making it uninhabitable.

The crime committed by the families was being related to Marwan al-Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisha, two suspects in the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers months earlier.

Some weeks later, both men were shot dead by Israeli forces without due process or trial.

ISRAEL HAS SINCE announced that it will demolish or seal six properties in East Jerusalem and the West Bank belonging to the families of suspects in attacks against Israelis.

Four of the Palestinian attack suspects were shot dead at the scene of the incidents.

“The renewal of this policy comes even though the security benefits are questionable to say the least. This is a policy which is both illegal and immoral because it deliberately targets the innocent and people not involved in attacks,” says Sarit Michaeli from Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

Punitive house demolitions were first enacted under the British mandate of Palestine and decreed that a property could be destroyed on suspicion that someone had committed an offense.

“This is a policy which is both illegal and immoral”

Although later canceled by the British, Israel continued to use the policy, demolishing some 1,300 Palestinian homes between 1967 to 1987 as punishment for suspected offences.

During the 2nd Intifada, at least 3,900 Palestinians were left homeless by demolitions designed to punish the actions of 333 Palestinian suspects, B’Tselem reports.

“It’s a war crime. It’s collective punishment because you punish innocent people. Israel isn’t doing it for any military necessity. They are sacrificing innocents,” says Shawan Jabarin, director of Palestinian rights group Al-Haq.

“Israel is the only state that uses this measure as part of an official policy.”

In 2005, an Israeli military committee found that punitive house demolitions were on the “verge of legality” and ineffective, and Israel temporarily ceased the policy for years.

‘Revenge, not deterrence’

The policy is now being reapplied at a time of escalating violence following the murder of three Israeli teenagers in June, the revenge killing of a Palestinian youth, and a military offensive in Gaza which killed over 2,000 Palestinians.

On Nov. 18, two Palestinians killed four Israelis in an attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issuing orders for the demolition of both their families’ homes on the same day.

The attackers were shot dead at the scene of the incident but the families will bear the consequences; their homelessness compounding the ongoing discrimination in housing and employment faced by Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Illegal under Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, unless the demolition is deemed absolutely necessary for a military operation, the policy is only ever used against Palestinians.

“The attackers were shot dead at the scene of the incident but the families will bear the consequences”

“They don’t do it in settlements, or Tel Aviv, they do it against Palestinians. I’m not with the idea of expanding the policy (to Israelis) because the practice itself is a violation of international law, but you see the war crime, and also the discrimination,” Jabarin says.

Israel’s High Court of Justice in August dismissed a petition by Israeli rights group HaMoked to prevent the demolition of the al-Qawasmeh and Abu Eisha homes in Hebron.

THE COURT ALSO rejected claims of discriminatory application of the policy, saying that the decision not to use the policy against the Jewish suspects in the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem does not entail “selective discrimination.”

“We think it’s immoral. We think it contradicts international law. We think it is against common sense and we think at this time especially it is going to ignite everything in Jerusalem,” director of HaMoked Dalia Kerstein said.

“I think it’s a tragedy, its collective punishment. In so many of these cases the people who committed the crime are dead or in jail. The people that suffer are the families, so it’s revenge.”