The Israeli government has adopted an official policy of harming the innocent

Published: 
23 Jun 2014

Update: On 2 July 2014 the military demolished the rented apartment in which the two Palestinians charged with killing Baruch Mizrahi lived with their family. The demolition was approved by the HCJ. The blast completely destroyed the apartment and damaged the wall it shared with another apartment in the building, which is home to the family of the brother one of the two suspects, Ziad ‘Awawdeh. As a result of the demolition six people, including four children, lost their home.

The intention to demolish the family home of the two Palestinians charged with the killing of Baruch Mizrahi means adopting an official policy of harming the innocent, stated Israeli human rights NGO B'Tselem. The two suspects will be tried for the attack, and are expected to be sentenced to long periods of detention. Their family members, who are not suspected of any offence, are the ones who will suffer the loss of their home: 13 people are currently living in the house, including 8 children.

Years ago, the army concluded that punitive home demolitions are not an effective measure to deter attacks against Israelis, and there are even indications that they achieve the opposite effect. It seems therefore that the motives are reaping revenge and politically capitalizing on the current public mood in Israel, in light of the abduction. This draconian measure was not utilized for almost ten years, except for one case in 2009:

Boy trying to recover items from his home, demolished as a punitive measure in Bethlehem. Photo: Magnus Johansson, Reuters, 15 June 2004
Boy trying to recover items from his home, demolished as a punitive measure in Bethlehem. Photo: Magnus Johansson, Reuters, 15 June 2004

Background on the Demolition of Houses as Punishment

On 17 February 2005, the minister of defense announced that the procedure would no longer be used. In the period between October 2001 (when Israel began once again to demolish homes as a means of punishment in the Occupied Territories, after four years in which it had not used this measure) and the end of January 2005, Israel demolished 664 houses as punishment.

Despite this decision, in 2009, Israel demolished one housing unit in East Jerusalem and sealed two. In January 2009, two housing units were sealed in East Jerusalem, as a result of which 24 persons lost their home. In April 2009, one housing unit was demolished in East Jerusalem, and four people lost their home.

Since 1967, Israel has implemented a policy of demolishing and sealing houses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a punitive measure against the Palestinian population. The scope of punitive house demolitions has varied over the years (in the four-year period 1998-2001, it was not used), in part because most Palestinians were living in areas in which governing powers had been transferred to the Palestinian Authority, and the IDF did not enter those areas. In October 2001, during IDF actions in Area A in the West Bank, Israel renewed its policy of punitive house demolitions.

The declared objective of house demolitions was deterrence, achieved by harming the relatives of Palestinians who carried out, or were suspected of involvement in carrying out, attacks against Israeli citizens and soldiers. Indeed, the main victims of the demolitions were family members, among them women, the elderly, and children, who bore no responsibility for the acts of their relative and were not suspected of involvement in any offense. In the vast majority of house demolitions, the person because of whom the house was demolished no longer lived in the house, either because he was “wanted” by Israel and was in hiding, or because he was being held by Israel and was awaiting a long prison sentence, or because he had been killed by security forces or in the attack he carried out. Israel tried to give the impression that it destroys only homes of Palestinians who were directly involved in attacks that caused many Israeli civilian casualties. In practice, the IDF also demolished homes of Palestinians who were involved in any kind of violent actions against Israelis, from suicide attacks that caused many casualties, to failed attempts against soldiers' lives. Also, not only did Israel demolish houses of persons suspected of carrying out attacks or of attempting to carry out attacks, it also demolished the house of Palestinians suspected of planning, dispatching, or assisting in the commission of attacks.

It should be mentioned that the deterrent effect of house demolitions has never been proven. In his book on the first intifada, Brigadier General Ariyeh Shalev examined the effect of house demolitions on the scope of violence. He found that the number of violent events did not diminish following house demolitions, and at times even rose. Similar findings were reached in an internal IDF report on house demolitions during the al-Aqsa intifada. In their book The Seventh War, journalists Amos Harel and Avi Isacharoff reported that the IDF report stated there was no proof of the deterrent effect of house demolitions, and that the number of attacks even rose a few months after implementation of the policy began. However, regardless of the deterrent effect, B'Tselem believes that the effectiveness of a particular measure does not make it legal.