Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids collective punishment and states that a person shall not be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. This article explicitly relates to administrative punishment imposed on persons or groups because of acts that they did not personally commit. Article 50 of the Hague Regulations states a comparable prohibition.
The IDF Spokesperson contended that, "The purpose of these exposing acts is not to punish the Palestinian populations, but rather to provide a solution for a specific and defined security need." In light of the extensive use of the policy and its horrendous consequences for the civilian population, this argument cannot be accepted.
The houses and the orchards destroyed by the soldiers belonged to Palestinians whom even Israel does not contend were involved in any way in attacks on Israeli civilians or security forces. Despite this, these Palestinians lost, as a result of the IDF acts, their homes and livelihood. Furthermore, they were not even given the opportunity to be heard by any official and were not compensated at all for their losses (on this issue, see below). The IDF is likely very aware of these consequences of its policy. Therefore, its argument that it does not seek to punish the Palestinian population is meaningless.
In some of the cases, the IDF's destruction of property took place immediately after Palestinians attacked Israeli civilians or security forces. In other cases, the IDF destroyed property in locations other than where the Palestinian attack occurred. This phenomenon raises the concern that the objective of these acts was to punish the Palestinians for the attack and to deter others from committing similar acts. Destruction of property as an act of revenge or punishment is absolutely forbidden. The commentary published by the ICRC on Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that the purpose of the article is to prevent precisely those acts that are intended to forestall breaches of the law by the civilian population.
A policy that harms thousands of innocent people and whose consequences are so horrendous and long lasting constitutes collective punishment, which is forbidden by international humanitarian law.
Since the beginning of the occupation, Israel has made extensive use of means that constitute collective punishment. Among these are sweeping restrictions on freedom of movement in the Occupied Territories, closure of educational institutions, and demolition of houses as punishment. Israel currently employs these means as an integral part of its policy in the Occupied Territories. The demolition of houses and destruction of agricultural land discussed above are a direct continuation of this policy.