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Through No Fault of Their Own: Israel's Punitive House Demolitions in the al-Aqsa Intifada

New B'Tselem Report: Unprecedented Destruction of Palestinian Homes: Punitive House Demolitions Double the Official Reports

Today B'Tselem publishes a comprehensive report on Israel's extensive use of punitive demolitions: the demolition of homes of the relatives of Palestinians suspected of involvement in attacks against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers.

B'Tselem's research indicates that:

  • Since the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada, the IDF has demolished 628 housing units, which were home to 3,983 persons.
  • These homes were demolished because of the acts of 333 Palestinians. On average, 12 innocent people lost their home for every person suspected of participation in attacks against Israelis.
  • Almost half of the homes demolished (295 - 47%) were never home to anyone suspected of involvement in attacks against Israelis. As a result of these demolitions, 1,286 persons lost their homes even though according to Israel's own position, they should not have been punished.
  • Contrary to its argument before the High Court of Justice that prior warning is given except in extraordinary cases, B'Tselem's figures indicate that in less than 3% of the cases were occupants given prior notification of the IDF's intention to demolish their home.

In addition to the punitive demolitions, Israel has demolished an additional 3,400 Palestinian homes over the past four years. This includes so-called "clearing" operations, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and houses Israel claims were built without a permit. Altogether Israel has demolished 4,100 homes. As a result at least 28,000 Palestinians have been rendered homeless. Israel's policy of punitive demolitions constitutes a grave breach of international humanitarian law, and therefore a war crime. Through a variety of legal gymnastics, Israel's High Court of Justice has avoided judicial scrutiny of the issue, serving as a rubber stamp for Israel's illegal policy.

The declared objective of Israel's policy is to deter Palestinians from carrying out attacks against Israelis, by harming the families of those involved in such attacks. The deterrent effect of house demolitions has never been proven, but in any case this is not relevant to determining the legality of the policy. Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians are a war crime that cannot be justified under any circumstances. Israel must protect its citizens, but it must do so in accordance with its obligations under international law. Punitive house demolitions are illegal, and B'Tselem demands that the government of Israel cease such demolitions, and compensate families whose homes were demolished.