Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said he was seeking to expel the families of West Bank Palestinians who attack Israelis to the Gaza Strip.
“Many terror attacks in recent months were carried out by terrorists who fit into the profile of ‘lone attackers.’ These attackers come from families that support and assist their actions,” Netanyahu wrote in a letter seeking Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s opinion on the matter.
“I am requesting your legal opinion regarding the possibility of expelling family members that support terror to Gaza,” Netanyahu wrote. “I am convinced that such a measure will lead to a significant decrease in the number of terror attacks against the State of Israel, its citizens and its residents.”
Right-wing politicians have long called for the deportation of attackers’ family members, including senior ministers from Netanyahu’s own Likud party. Only a few days ago Mandelblit shot down this idea in response to a query from from Likud ministers, arguing that it would contravene Israeli and international law.
The ministers have raised the expulsion option during cabinet meetings in recent weeks amid five months of near-daily attacks by Palestinians on Israeli civilians and security forces, Army Radio reported Sunday.
A source who was present during the debates claimed that it was only Mandelblit’s objections that is preventing the policy from being implemented.
Last Thursday Netanyahu expressed support for expelling families of attackers, claiming that legal red tape obstructing the move stemmed from a misinterpretation of the Geneva Convention.
“There is one thing we have not managed to do,” Netanyahu reportedly said at a Likud faction meeting. “We have not managed to bring about the deportation of attackers’ families. We cannot do this because the courts define this as a war crime. That is how it is defined in the Geneva Conventions, etc.
“I think the intention there regarded relocation of entire populations,” he continued. “They interpret it as relocating one person or another. I am certain this was not the intent of those who legislated the conventions. But that’s how they interpret it in the world and, unfortunately, that’s how they interpret it here.”
A number of other measures used by Israel as deterrent measures, such as home demolitions, closing off the hometowns of attackers and revoking work permits, have been criticized as a form of collective punishment.
Twenty-nine Israelis and three foreign nationals have been killed in a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks and violence since October. Over 170 Palestinians have also been killed, some two-thirds of them while attacking Israelis, and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.
The attacks do not appear to have an organized leadership and have been carried out by individual or groups of Palestinians apparently acting on their own accord.
Mandelblit, whose previous position was cabinet secretary for the Netanyahu government, took up the post of attorney general at the beginning of the month.
In one of his first decisions in the new post, Mandelblit said Israel should spare the family home of Shadi Ahmad Matua of Hebron, because the gunman’s father had handed him in to the Shin Bet security agency. Matua, aged 28 and married with two children, is accused of killing Rabbi Isaac Litman, 40, and his 18-year-old son, Netanel, in a shooting attack in November. His father and brother turned him in shortly afterward, fearing their home would be demolished in retribution.
One of the most outspoken advocates for the expulsion of attackers’ families to Gaza is Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan, was has been calling for the measure for months.
“The only way [to stop the terrorists] is to deter them. To explain to [potential terrorists] that at the end of the day, if they carry out an attack, their families will be greatly damaged. I don’t think there is a greater damage than to expel them,” he told The Times of Israel in late January.
Acknowledging that such measures would likely be opposed by the Supreme Court and might violate international law, Ben Dahan nonetheless averred that he saw no problem with expelling family members of attackers, since they were usually implicated or had previous knowledge of his or her deeds.
“There is no law in Israel that bars the deportation of terrorists’ families; therefore, implementing this proposal would merely contradict a decision of the court,” he argued.
“I think that the court also needs to understand that this is a time of emergency,” Ben Dahan, 61, who is also an ordained rabbi, said. “Just like the army, the police and the border police are all in emergency mode — we are all in emergency mode. Everyone understands that these are no ordinary days.”
Ben Dahan, a former deputy religious affairs minister, said he was unfazed by the possibility that his proposal could be considered collective punishment and hence constitute a violation of international law. “Killing Jews is also illegal. To kill a woman in her house is also illegal. Attacking a pregnant women is also illegal,” he said, referring to recent terror attacks in Otniel and Tekoa, respectively.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.