Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian terrorists’ homes constitutes a war crime and must be halted immediately, rights group Human Rights Watch said Saturday.
In a statement released on its website, HRW said the practice “deliberately and unlawfully punishes people not accused of any wrongdoing.” Such collective punishment in occupied territory such as the West Bank and East Jerusalem was considered a war crime, the group stressed.
“It is a basic principle of law that one person should not be punished for another’s crime,” the group’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director Joe Stork said. “Punitive home demolitions are blatantly unlawful. Israel should prosecute, convict, and punish criminals, not carry out vengeful destruction that harms entire families.”
HRW also noted that the policy, which Israel had previously applied frequently between during the years of the Second Intifada, was halted in 2005 after a study by an Israeli military committee concluded that — contrary to the justification commonly given by Israeli leaders — it was ineffective in deterring attacks, and only increased hostility towards Israel.
The group also noted that Israel has never destroyed the homes of Israeli terrorists who killed Palestinians for nationalistic reasons.
“Justifying punishment of people who are not responsible for a criminal act just because they might ‘support’ it would set a dangerous precedent which could come back to haunt Israelis,” HRW warned.
On Thursday the Israeli government issued demolition orders to the families of the two East Jerusalem residents who carried out a rampage in a synagogue in the city earlier in the week, granting them 48 hours to appeal the decision.
The move came a day after Israel lew up the house of Abdelrahman al-Shaludi, a 21-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem who rammed his car into Israeli pedestrians in October, killing 3-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun and Karen Yemima Muscara, an Ecuadorean woman studying in the city.
Also Thursday, the High Court shot down a government request to raze the house of a terrorist who rammed into a Jerusalem bus with a tractor on August 4, killing Avraham Walles, 29. A hearing on the matter will be held on Monday, Israel Radio reported. The family of Mohammed Jaabis, 23, from Jabel Mukaber, was notified of the slated demolition earlier this week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to resume the controversial practice following a string of deadly terror attacks in the capital by residents of East Jerusalem.
Two other families of terrorists in East Jerusalem have now been formally notified that their homes are slated for demolition.
One is that of Mu’taz Hijazi, 32, from Abu Tor who on October 29 tried to assassinate right-wing Jewish activist Yehuda Glick, critically wounding him. Hijazi was shot dead the following morning when he opened fire on security forces trying to arrest him, Israel said.
The second is the home of Ibrahim al-Akary, 38, from the Shuafat refugee camp, who on November 5 rammed his car into pedestrians, killing a teenager and a policeman and wounding nine, before also being shot dead at the scene.
On November 6, following two deadly Palestinian attacks in a fortnight, Netanyahu approved plans to knock down or seal up the homes of anyone attacking Israelis as part of a raft of measures to “restore calm” in Jerusalem.
The aim is to create deterrence: Even if those planning attacks have no concern for their own lives, they might be forced to think twice if they knew it would leave their families homeless.
The punitive measure has been condemned by the international community. On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the demolitions “are counterproductive in an already tense situation.”
“This is a practice I would remind that the Israeli government itself discontinued in the past, recognizing its effects,” he said.
The government’s own Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is said to have previously objected to a return to the policy. Ynet reported on Thursday that Weinstein was initially strongly opposed to the idea, viewing it as a form of collective punishment, but conceded after accepting the position of the Shin Bet security service that it was in fact an effective deterrent.
AP, AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.