As tensions seethe in Jerusalem the Israeli government has resurrected polices from the Intifada-era including punitive home demolitions as a measure of deterrence against attacks on its citizens. Over the past three weeks five Israelis have been killed in hit-and-runs and stabbings while four suspected Palestinian assailants have been shot by police.
Speaking in a security cabinet meeting Tuesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the controversial policy to raze houses will be reinstated on a broad scale to quell violence that has centered in Jerusalem. “These steps include increasing forces on the ground throughout the country in order to boost your security, citizens of Israel; the demolition of terrorists’ homes,” he said.
Netanyahu added fines would be imposed on the parents of Palestinian children suspected of stone throwing, a crime that as of last week has become punishable with up to 20 years in prison. His security cabinet meetings followed Monday’s deadly knife attacks on two Israelis—one in Tel Aviv and another in a West Bank settlement. Israeli Sgt. Almog Shilony, 20, was stabbed to death while in uniform at the Haganah Train Station in Tel Aviv, allegedly by Maher al-Hashlamu, 30, a Palestinian from Hebron. Hashlamu was taken into police custody. Hours later settler Dalia Lemkus, 26, an occupational therapist at a kindergarten from the settlement of Tekoa, was attacked by an unidentified Palestinian man bearing a knife at a bus stop in Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. The Israeli news outlet YNet noted, “The attack occurred some 100 meters away from the hitchhiking stop from which three Israeli yeshiva students–Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel–were kidnapped in June.”
Even before Tuesday night when Netanyahu declared the return of home demolitions on a policy level, there were calls inside of the government to bring it back. “Anyone who attacks police or civilians, his home should be demolished,” said Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovic while visiting the family of Chaya Zissel, a three-month old Israeli-American who was killed on October 22, 2014 in a motor attack at a light rail stop in East Jerusalem by Palestinians Rahman al-Shaludi, 21. Al-Shaludi was gunned down while fleeing the scene by an off duty police officer. He died in a Jerusalem hospital where his wounds went untreated for hours.
Days later his family was informed by Israeli border police that their homes would be demolished as they prepared to receive al-Shaludi’s remains for his funeral. (Israeli police limited the number of mourners at the funeral to 20, yet another Intifada-era policy.) The family of another alleged attacker, Mutaz Hijazi, 32, a Palestinian from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor who allegedly attempted to assassinate Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick on October 29, said border police gave them the same message. It came while authorities dragged Hijazi’s body from the rooftop of his home after undercover forces riddled him with bullets as he hid under a solar panel. His family called his death an extra-judicial killing.
Reinstating punitive home demolitions
Punitive home demolitions were once a staple of Israeli policy during the first and second Intifadas. The Israeli military abandoned home razing in 2005 citing its ineffectiveness. It was used as a punishment on the family members of Palestinians whose relatives committed violent acts against Israelis. Critics have cited the practice as collective punishment and in contradiction to international law, which Israeli courts have held up at times when overturning individual cases of demolition orders.
The Israeli human rights group B’tselem reported between from October 2001 and February 2005, “The IDF has demolished as punishment 675 housing units, which were home to 4,239 persons,” adding, “From 1967 to the outbreak of intifada, Israel demolished more than 1,800 homes as punishment.” Since 1967 more than 27,000 homes have been razed, however, demolitions as punishment or criminal deterrence constitute two-percent of that amount.
Even before the first Intifada punitive home demolitions had existed in Israel’s arsenal of force in the occupied Palestinian territories. Codified by a military order in 1967 that was rooted in hangover codes from the British Mandate, the law went relatively unchallenged until 1979 when Israel’s High Court debated the legality of the practice. Ultimately jurists approved the practice as a legitimate mode of deterrence.
Netanyahu’s Tuesday announcement was not the first time punitive home demolitions have been “brought back” from the time of the two Palestinian uprisings. A closer look shows the policy has crept back into use over the past decade as relations with the Palestinian Authority strained. In 2009 a Palestinian home was destroyed as punishment. At the time it seemed like a one-off case. Then last summer the issue surfaced in Israel’s High Court again after an order was distributed for the first time in nine years to the family of two Palestinians (a father and son team) who killed Baruch Mizrahi in a shooting outside of Hebron. In that instance home demolition was proposed on an ad-hoc basis. There was no indication there would teams of bulldozes with paper orders singed by army commanders to turn a home into rubble in the future.
Yet hours after the High Court met on June 30, 2014 the bodies of three Israelis abducted last summer were found. Overnight the Israeli army and Shin Beit (secret security) officials went to the homes of the on the lam abductors Amer Abu Aisha and Marwan Qawasmeh. All of their relatives were removed from the houses around midnight while soldiers set incendiary devices on timers. Their apartments were decimated by explosion. Days later, the home demolition order from the Mizrahi case was approved, setting in line two systems of implementing punitive home demolitions. One by an army order, as done during the Intifadas, and two more carried out with no prior notice or opportunity for appeal, as done with the Abu Aisha and Qawasmeh homes. Still it was not clear until Netanyahu’s announcement that punitive home demolitions are back as a policy. And they can now be issued with the same frequency as during both the first and second Intifadas.