Background on the Demolition of Houses as Punishment

1 Jan 2011

Demolition of the Dwiyat family's house, East Jerusalem. Photo: Kareem Jubran, B'Tselem, 7 April 2009. On 17 February 2005, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz adopted an IDF committee's recommendation to stop demolishing the homes of Palestinians suspected of carrying out attacks against Israelis. The committee found that house demolitions are not an efficient deterrent.

Despite this decision, in 2009, Israel demolished one housing unit in East Jerusalem and sealed two.

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.