In a marked departure from policy to date, Israel has decided that Palestinian terrorists’ families who turn the killers in to security forces will be able to save their homes from demolition, Channel 2 news reported Tuesday.
The government thus adopted the recommendation of new Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit who, in one of his first decisions in the position, said Israel should spare the house of Shadi Ahmad Matua of Hebron, because the gunman’s father had handed him in to the Shin Bet security agency.
Though officials initially balked at the precedent-setting move, they were persuaded to accept Mandelblit’s position, according to Channel 2.
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 afterwards, fearing their home would be demolished in retribution.
On Tuesday morning IDF engineers accompanied by Border Police officers destroyed the homes of Raed Masalmeh, 36, and Mohammed Abdel Basset al-Kharoub, 24, both in villages near Hebron, the military said in a statement. The two were responsible for the deaths of five people in two attacks carried out within hours of each other on November 19.
Masalmeh admitted stabbing to death 51-year-old Reuven Aviram and 32-year-old Aharon Yesiav, and wounding a third person in an attack on Jewish worshipers at the Panorama office building in south Tel Aviv on November 19. He has been indicted for murder at Tel Aviv District Court.
Hours after the Tel Aviv attack, Mohammed Abdel Basset al-Kharoub, 24, from the village of Dir Smat near Hebron, shot dead three people and wounded four others near the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut. Among his victims was was American Jewish youth Ezra Schwartz, 18, Israeli man Yaakov Don, 51 and Palestinian Shadi Arafa, 24.
Ruling recently on an appeal against the demolition by the Masalmeh and al-Kharoub families, the Supreme Court said that “the ability to prevent future bloodshed requires us to harden our hearts and spare potential victims, more so than pitying the house occupants.”
While the petitioners opposed the house demolitions on the grounds that it unfairly punishes the families living there, the court stated that the price was justified if even one life could be saved.
The houses of 12 terrorists have been destroyed since the start of the current wave of violence in September, Channel 2 News reported, and another seven are in line for demolition, including that of Morad Bader Abdullah Adais, 16, accused of killing Dafna Meir, 39, at the entrance to her home in the West Bank settlement of Otniel last month.
The practice of demolishing the family homes of terrorists has been criticized by non-governmental groups, but government officials have defended its use, saying it is not a punishment but a deterrent against attacks.
Critics claim that in addition to being a form of collective punishment, house demolitions could motivate family members of terrorists to launch attacks themselves.
The European Union has called on Israel to halt demolitions of Palestinian houses. Foreign ministers from 28 EU nations recently confirmed “the EU’s firm opposition to Israel’s settlement policy” and criticized actions as part of that policy including demolitions, confiscation and forced transfers.