Shortly before dawn Wednesday, a powerful explosion ripped out the walls of the home of Abdelrahman al-Shaludi, a 21-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem who rammed his car into Israeli pedestrians in a murderous terror attack.
In demolishing the home of the Hamas terrorist behind last month’s attack, which killed a baby and a woman before police shot and fatally wounded him, Israel renewed a controversial policy aimed at deterrence but one which may further inflame tensions.
The blast, which rocked the densely populated Silwan neighborhood on a steep hillside just south of Jerusalem’s Old City, marked the restart of a policy of demolishing the family homes of Palestinians responsible for anti-Israeli attacks.
Amer Shaludi, a relative who lives underneath the family’s third-floor apartment, said police burst in shortly after midnight, ordering everyone outside. “Then, at around 4 a.m., there was a huge explosion,” he said.
Aware that the home was slated for demolition, the family had recently moved out.
“The destruction of terrorists’ homes sends a sharp, clear message to those who wish to harm Israeli civilians and security forces, that terrorism and causing harm to innocents carries with it a heavy price,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.
On Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to raze more homes of families of East Jerusalem assailants.
“We have nothing against the residents of eastern Jerusalem but we will not tolerate attacks on our citizens and we will act against those who do these things and against those engaged in incitement,” he said according to a statement. “With a determined and vigorous hand, we will restore security to Jerusalem.”
Three other families of terrorists in East Jerusalem have now been formally notified that their homes are slated for demolition.
One is the home of Mohammed Jaabis, 23, from Jabel Mukaber, who rammed an earthmover into a bus on August 4, killing an Israeli and wounding five. He was shot dead by police at the scene.
Another is that of Mu’taz Hijazi, 32, from Abu Tor who on October 29 tried to gun down a far-right Jewish activist, critically wounding him. Hijazi was shot dead the following morning during a police raid.
The third 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.
Israel has likewise pledged to raze the homes of Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal, from Jabel Mukaber, who on Tuesday were shot dead after attacking a synagogue with meat cleavers and a gun, killing four rabbis at prayer as well as a Druze policeman.
For those whose houses have been condemned, it becomes a waiting game until they receive the date.
After that, they have 48 hours to appeal against the order to the Supreme Court.
But the Shaludi family did not bother appealing.
According to Danny Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer and left-wing activist who tracks developments in East Jerusalem, it was the first punitive demolition in the city since April 2009 when police razed the home of a Palestinian who went on a rampage a year earlier, killing three Israelis.
But 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.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Yair Lapid called the demolition of terrorists’ homes an effective means to deter further attacks.
“The terrorists must know that we will respond forcefully to their actions, he told Channel 2.
“We must think of new ways to deal with terror,” added Lapid.
Washington warned last week that demolishing homes could be “counterproductive” and “exacerbate an already tense situation” in Jerusalem.
Left-wing Israeli rights group B’Tselem protested that “The main victims of the demolitions were family members, among them women, the elderly, and children, who bore no responsibility for the acts of their relative and were not suspected of involvement in any offense.”
B’Tselem says that between October 2001 and January 2005, 664 homes were destroyed across the occupied Palestinian territories, leaving 4,182 people homeless before the Defense Ministry decided to end the policy, following research showing it was not an efficient deterrent and could encourage more violence.
Despite the decision, the army destroyed one home in East Jerusalem in 2009 and sealed up two others in the same year, the NGO said.
And earlier this year, troops also razed the homes of three Palestinians accused of involvement in the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Two homes in the southern West Bank city of Hebron were completely destroyed, while a third was partially razed and then sealed off.