18 March 2009: Israeli High Court allows demolition family home of Jerusalem attack perpetrator

18 Mar 2009

On 18 March, the Israeli High Court of Justice allowed the state to demolish the home of the family of Husam Dwayat, who used a bulldozer to carry out an attack in the center of Jerusalem last July. Dwayat's widow and two small children live in the apartment, which is on the first floor of a building.

As in previous cases of this kind, the justices (Levy, Grunis, and Na'or) accepted the state's argument that demolition of the apartment will deter others from carrying out similar acts. The justices approved the demolition, even though the state never contended that Dwayat's family assisted him or knew of his plans.

From 1967 to 2005, Israel maintained a policy to demolish or seal houses in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a means to punish the families of Palestinians who had injured Israelis. The policy was based on the claim that, out of concern for their families, Palestinians would be deterred from carrying out attacks. In implementing this policy, from October 2001 to the end of January 2005, Israel demolished 664 houses, leaving 4,182 persons homeless.

This practice is forbidden under international humanitarian law. The declared objective is to harm innocent persons - relatives of suspects - whom nobody contends were involved in any offense. As such, it constitutes collective punishment, which violates the principle that a person is not to be punished for the acts of another.

In February 2005, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon accepted the recommendations of a team headed by Maj. Gen. Udi Shani, which called for ending this policy, on the grounds that it does not deter, and causes more harm than potential benefit. The recommendation, and the decision to adopt it, eliminated the foundation for the claim of deterrence that Israel had maintained for so many years.

On 19 January 2009, without giving a convincing explanation, Israel renewed its policy and sealed two of four floors in the house of the family of the perpetrator of the attack at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem, ‘Alaa Abu Dahim, in which his parents and one of his brothers lived. In that case as well, the High Court approved the state's action.