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Revenge devoid of purpose: Punitive demolitions of Palestinian homes


While the kidnapping of three Israeli settler youth in early June unleashed two military operations, Operation Brothers’ Keeper in the West Bank and Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, what emerged out of the destruction, killing and suffering was the stark realization that Israel has nowhere to go politically. Having deliberately and systematically eliminated the two-state solution, having rendered its occupation a permanent fact of life, unable to extend citizenship to the millions of Palestinians under its control yet equally unable to control them indefinitely, the Netanyahu government is merely lashing out in all directions, as if pure and overwhelming violence will finally  “teach” the Palestinians that resistance is futile.

The assault on Gaza was blind atavistic violence on a macro scale. The demolition of three Palestinian apartment blocks in Hebron in early hours of the morning August 18th, “punitive” retaliation against the suspected culprits in the kidnapping and dozens of innocent people, represented pointless violence and suffering on a micro scale, yet a micro event that, multiplied thousands of times over the days, weeks and years of occupation, adds up to what has been called “incremental genocide,” in the sense of destroying a culture and its ability to survive.

And the “punitive” demolitions were pointless and, indeed, counterproductive, even by Israel’s own standards. Over the years the Israeli authorities have demolished some 40,000 Palestinian homes, either as “collateral damage” in military incursions (10,000 were destroyed in the latest round of fighting in Gaza) or because, since 1967, Israel has refused to grant building permits to Palestinians, who are then forced to build “illegally” and face demolition. In virtually none of these cases was “security” the reason for demolition, as testified by the fact that none of the owners were ever arrested.

A third category of demolition was “punitive,” the idea being that Palestinians hold their homes sacred, so if a terrorist knew his or her family’s home would be destroyed if he or she committed an attack, it would act as an effective deterrent. In fact, it grew out of the British Emergency Regulations of 1945, referred to as “Nazi” regulations befitting totalitarian regimes by none other than Menachem Begin, who tried to have them cancelled during his years in the Knesset. When Prime Minister Moshe Sharett argued that “all laws are laws,” Begin replied:

Not so! There are tyrannical laws, there are unethical laws, there are Nazi laws…. The law which you have employed [the British Emergency Regulations] is Nazi, tyrannical and unethical. An unethical law is also an illegal law…. The existence of such regulations raises questions regarding the fundamental rights of every Israeli citizen.

Nonetheless, hundreds of homes were demolished under this policy in the Occupied Territory, many of them while Begin himself was in power. Between 2001-2005, according to B’tselem figures, 664 Palestinian homes were demolished as forms of punishment. Some 4,182 innocent people were displaced, many of them neighbors of the suspect’s family, and this often on the basis of suspicion alone. This policy of collective punishment without any due process of law was blatantly illegal on both counts.

In February, 2005, a military committee convened by then-Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon and headed by Major General Udi Shani, concluded not only that the policy of punitive demolitions was ineffective in deterring terrorism, but it actually incited additional attacks. The Chief Military Advocate General, Brigadier General Avi Mandelblit, formally announced that the policy would be discontinued.

Until today. Nothing has changed. Mandelblit currently serves as Netanyahu’s Cabinet Secretary, Yaalon is the Minister of Defense and no new information has come to light attesting to the effectiveness of punitive demolitions. Yet, despite the fact that the suspects have not yet been arrested, yet alone tried and convicted, Yaalon ordered the demolition of entire apartment buildings housing the Abu Eisha and al-Qawasmi families, and sealed off the home of Marwan Qawasmi, a third suspect, by pumping it full of concrete. Eight families, relatives of two of the kidnapping suspects plus other families, have been rendered homeless, including 22 children. They will not be allowed to rebuild.

Hussam al-Qawasmi house (Photo: Yousef Natsheh)

Hussam al-Qawasmi house (Photo: Yousef Natsheh)

The Palestinian families have known for well over a month that the demolitions were imminent. Hamoked, an Israeli rights organization, filed three separate petitions in the Israeli High Court, arguing that “demolishing a family home was a cruel and inhuman act of doubtful efficacy, and that demolishing the homes of the suspects’ families constituted a deliberate attack against innocent people, in violation of international humanitarian law, which prohibits collective punishment and destruction of property.” HaMoked also noted that the planned demolitions did not meet the test of proportionality even of the draconian Regulation 119 of the Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945, which sanctions such punishment. Finally, HaMoked objected to the demolitions because the Israeli military only “uses the regulation only when the attacker is a Palestinian and the victim is a Jew, demonstrates extreme discrimination.”

The High Court of Justice’s rejection of HaMoked’s arguments in favor of the Israeli military not only represented a continuation of collective punishment policies and the suppression of basic human rights granted to the Palestinians under international law, but also delivered a blow to the rule of law by setting dangerous precedents and perpetuating a dual-system of law for Israelis and Palestinians. The High Court Justices Yoram Danziger, Issac Amit, and Noam Sohlberg (the last a settler) ruled against all evidence, including that of the IDF itself, that the demolitions were essential to deter acts of violence – particularly given “the significant deterioration of the security situation.”

Of course, as the legal unit representing the Palestinians argued, the ruling is discriminatory in that Israel does not demolish the homes of Jewish terrorists, as evidenced most starkly by the case of those arrested for brutally murdering Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teenager who was kidnapped, forced to drink flammable liquids and burnt alive in early July. Yosef Haim Ben-David, an Israeli from the illegal settlement of Adam in the West Bank, explicitly stated in his confession to the kidnapping and murder that, “We planned to hurt a soul, meaning to kill… to torture him and kill him,” and continued onto say that, “to [let Muhammad Abu Khdeir know] that he was about to die as a sacrifice for the Jews that were murdered.” In reference to the demand to demolish the houses of the Jewish terrorists (an act, it should be noted, that ICAHD would also oppose), Justice Danziger responded, “I’m not overlooking the shocking case of the murder of the teenage boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a case that shocked the country and sparked wall-to-wall condemnations, but this was the rarest of rare occurrences.” Rare? Since 2006 there have been 2,100 attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

After 47 years of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, the Palestinian families were far from shocked at the court’s decision or the violent way in which their homes were destroyed or by the considerable collateral damage the explosions caused, leaving more families displaced than what the court has ordered. But it is yet another micro events attesting to the injustice, cruelty and ultimate unsustainability of an Occupation that must end NOW.

Cody ORourke and Jeff Halper
About Cody O’Rourke and Jeff Halper

Cody O’Rourke is a full-time field worker for the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Hebron. Jeff Halper is the head of The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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10 Responses

  1. amigo
    amigo on August 19, 2014, 2:33 pm

    I just finished watching Jeff and Bill van Esfeld putting the very dishonest Avi Bell through the ringer, (pun intended).

    I know for me it was very difficult listening to Bell tell lie after lie after lie and then having the chutzpah to call his two opponents liars.How frustrating it must be for those across the table from Bell.

    You couldn,t make this stuff up.

    Well done Jeff and Bill.

  2. seafoid
    seafoid on August 19, 2014, 3:04 pm

    Revenge designed to put Palestinians in their place- colonially very purposeful.
    Goes with the ban on Jews marrying Muslims. Can’t have any Rassenschande.

    Israel is fucking mental

  3. DaveS
    DaveS on August 19, 2014, 4:48 pm

    Not only did the younger confessed murderers of Muhammad Abu Khdeir not have their houses demolished, they apparently were RELEASED pending determination of the charges against them, according to this shocking article (which I have not seen corroborated) –
    According to their lawyer, it could take more than year and a half for trial proceedings to end, adding that they were too young to stay in jail for that long.
    The older ringleader, who is presenting an insanity defense, apparently remains locked up.
    Of course, Israel does not have the same restriction on incarcerating Palestinian youths, even if they are only suspected of much less horrible crimes. Then again, Palestinian youths are accustomed to awful treatment, while Israeli youths must be protected.

    • Mooser
      Mooser on August 19, 2014, 8:15 pm

      “The older ringleader, who is presenting an insanity defense…”

      ‘Your Honor, people of the jury, the defense intends to show the accused was in the throes of an acute Ziocaine Syndrome event which diminished his capacity…’

  4. just
    just on August 19, 2014, 4:57 pm

    “Yosef Haim Ben-David’s eyewear shop is in Geula, a dense, bustling commercial district in a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem. The store’s stock was recently cleared out and the business shuttered.

    “He was a really good man. He was friends with everyone here,” said Yehuda Afgani, who works at a neighboring shop.

    “I don’t care about the other guy,” Afgani said, referring to Ben-David’s teenage victim. “That’s what the stress of living here does to us.”

    Ben-David rented a house in the Adam community, one of the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that are considered by much of the world to be a violation of international law, though Israel disputes this.

    When Ben-David was arrested before dawn July 6, by plainclothes police wearing masks, neighbors first thought it was a terrorist attack.

    His settlement boasts single-family villas, bougainvillea and sweeping views of the Judean hills. Neighbors said they had seen little of Ben-David since he moved to their quiet cul-de-sac 18 months ago. His wife was pleasant but kept to herself, minding their toddler daughter, they said.”

    More really sick stuff here:

    Is his house not destroyed because it’s a rental?

    • tree
      tree on August 19, 2014, 5:57 pm

      Is his house not destroyed because it’s a rental?

      No, that doesn’t stop Israel from demolishing homes of Palestinians. His home isn’t demolished because he is Jewish.

      • just
        just on August 19, 2014, 6:00 pm

        I know– different strokes for different folks is par for the course. No justice, only cruelty.

        (He lives in a settlement, too!)

    • a blah chick
      a blah chick on August 19, 2014, 7:12 pm

      “I don’t care about the other guy,” Afgani said, referring to Ben-David’s teenage victim. “That’s what the stress of living here does to us.”

      These people are pathetic.

  5. Marnie
    Marnie on August 20, 2014, 1:48 am

    These are 5-year-olds who got sand kicked in their eyes and are waiting until dark to get their revenge. This is the mentality of so many israelis – spoiled, petulant, demanding, destructive, disrespectful, brutal, without honor, understanding or empathy, with the attitude “What are you gonna do about it?”
    “They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
    Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.
    Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise?” Psalms 94:6-8

  6. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870 on August 20, 2014, 7:07 am

    RE: The High Court Justices Yoram Danziger, Issac Amit, and Noam Sohlberg (the last a settler) ruled against all evidence, including that of the IDF itself, that the demolitions were essential to deter acts of violence – particularly given “the significant deterioration of the security situation.” ~ Cody O’Rourke and Jeff Halper

    MY COMMENT: Since Israel and the U.S. share the same values, I’m surprised the use of house demolitions here in the States has not likewise been deemed “essential to deter acts of violence – particularly given the significant deterioration of the security situation (e.g., in Ferguson, Missouri).”

    According to an article at

    [EXCERPTS] At least two of the four law enforcement agencies that were deployed in Ferguson up until Thursday evening — the St. Louis County Police Department and the St. Louis Police Department — received training from Israeli security forces in recent years. . .

    . . . While there is a wealth of scholarship on police militarization in the US, there has been little to no examination of the ways Israel’s security apparatus facilitates it.

    Decades of testing and perfecting methods of domination and control on a captive and disenfranchised Palestinian population has given rise to a booming “homeland security industry” in Israel that refashions occupation-style repression for use on marginalized populations in other parts of the world, including St. Louis.

    Under the cover of counterterrorism training, nearly every major police agency in the United States has traveled to Israel for lessons in occupation enforcement, a phenomenon that journalist Max Blumenthal dubbed “the Israelification of America’s security apparatus.” Israeli forces and US police departments are so entrenched that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has opened a branch in Tel Aviv.

    In 2011, then St. Louis County Police Department chief Timothy Fitch attended the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) National Counter-Terrorism Seminar, an annual week-long Israeli training camp where US law enforcement executives “study first hand Israel’s tactics and strategies” directly from “senior commanders in the Israel National Police, experts from Israel’s intelligence and security services, and the Israel Defense Forces,” according to the ADL’s website.

    Until Thursday night, the St. Louis County Police Department appeared to be the largest most militarized and brutish force operating in Ferguson. “St. Louis County Police” was scrawled across the side of most of the tactical unit vehicles and appeared on the combat-style uniforms of officers aiming assault rifles at peaceful protesters.

    The ADL boasts of sending more than 175 senior US law enforcement officials from 100 different agencies to the seminar since 2004, which are “taking the lessons they learned in Israel back to the United States.”
    The ADL is just one of several pro-Israel groups forging close ties between US cops and Israel’s security and intelligence apparatus.

    Another is the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a neoconservative think tank that claims to have hosted some 9,500 law enforcement officials in its Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP) since 2004.

    LEEP “takes delegations of senior law enforcement executives to Israel to study methods and observe techniques used in preventing and reacting to acts of terrorism” and “sponsors conferences within the United States, bringing Israeli experts before much larger groups of law enforcement leaders,” according to JINSA’s brochure..”

    Former St. Louis Police Department police chief Joseph Mokwa is listed as having traveled to Israel as part of a LEEP conference in February 2008.

    Following nationwide outrage and embarrassment, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon pulled St. Louis County Police forces out of Ferguson and placed the Missouri Highway Patrol in charge of policing demonstrators. The St. Louis Police Department voluntarily removed its officers from Ferguson.

    As a result, Ferguson no longer looks like occupied territory, though the underlying issue, Michael Brown’s murder, has yet to be addressed. . .

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