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Rights groups to Israel's top court: Home demolitions are collective punishment

Within the legal community, Israel’s High Court and the state attorneys are isolated and alone in thinking that home demolitions are an acceptable practice, the petitioners argue. No date is set for a decision in the case.

Demolishing the homes of suspected — or convicted — Palestinian terrorists amounts to collective punishment that in some cases could constitute a grave breach of international law, a group of Israeli human rights organizations argued before the High Court of Justice on Wednesday.

The people most affected by home demolitions are the suspect’s family members, who have committed no crime themselves. In many cases, the accused family member — when alive — has not yet been convicted in a civilian or military court when the demolition is carried out, making the demolitions extrajudicial.

Family members of Abed al-Rahman Shaloudi, who murdered two people including a small baby, stand in their apartment that Israeli authorities demolished as part of a return to punitive home demolitions, Silwan, East Jerusalem, November 19, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Family members of Abed al-Rahman Shaloudi, who murdered two people including a small baby, stand in their apartment that Israeli authorities demolished as part of a return to punitive home demolitions, Silwan, East Jerusalem, November 19, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The court combined the case, which seeks to ban the practice of punitive home demolitions outright, with the appeals of two East Jerusalem Palestinian families whose homes Israel has ordered demolished. Israel has slated their two homes for demolition because two of their family members murdered four rabbis in a terror attack inside a Jewish synagogue last months. They were killed in a shootout with police.

Following the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the demolition of their homes, emphasizing that the state “will settle accounts with all of the terrorists,” insinuating that the demolitions are retaliatory and punitive. In court, however, the state maintained that the home demolitions serve solely as a deterrent measure.

The state argues that only the real potential of harm to one’s family can deter someone who willing to set out on a mission they know will result in their own death.

But there is no evidence backing up the state’s deterrence theory. In fact, a study commissioned by the Israeli Defense Ministry nearly a decade ago found that home demolitions have no deterrence and in some cases, even lead to additional retaliatory attacks.

Family members examine the damage after the Israeli army demolished part of the home of Amer Abu Aisheh, one of two Palestinians who were suspects in the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, Hebron, July 1, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Family members examine the damage after the Israeli army demolished part of the home of Amer Abu Aisheh, one of two Palestinians who were suspects in the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, Hebron, July 1, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Haaretz reported at the time:

Shani reached the conclusion that no effective deterrence was proven, except in a few cases, and that the damage to Israel caused by the demolitions was greater than the benefits because the deterrence, limited if at all, paled in comparison to the hatred and hostility toward Israel that the demolitions provoked among the Palestinians.

“Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual” and seven other Israeli human rights organizations, represented by Atty. Michael Sfard, did not attempt to tackle whether the practice is a deterrent or punitive measure.

Irrespective of the intention — stated or otherwise — for demolishing an attacker’s family home, Sfard argued, it constitutes collective punishment, which is prohibited by Israeli law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states:

No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

Within the legal community, Sfard told the three justices, Israel’s High Court and the state attorneys are entirely alone in thinking that home demolitions are an acceptable practice.

“There is nothing that contradicts Jewish law and Jewish values more than [collective punishment],” Sfard said.

The petition also says that home demolitions are applied discriminatorily, as the homes of Jewish terrorists are not destroyed. I wrote on that very issue here a couple of weeks ago.

Responding to the discrimination claim, the state attorney argued didn’t bother with political correctness. Unlike Palestinian society, he told the court, in Jewish society “there is nothing to deter against.”

For many Palestinians, the fact that the family homes of Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s killers’ are still standing is evidence that Israel’s demolition policy is both racist and punitive. The state attorney in this case argued that the public shock in Israel over the killings is evidence that there is no need for deterring Jews — only Arabs.

The court did not give a timetable for handing down decisions either about the two home demolitions or the wider case about the policy itself. If the court is to hear the challenge to the policy, it is likely to appoint a wider panel of judges, which is customary when ruling on questions of constitutionality.

Related:
Punitive home demolitions are racist — and just plain wrong
The return of punitive home demolitions
Minister: Demolish homes in response to deadly J’lem attack 
Rights groups say IDF response to kidnapping is collective punishment

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    COMMENTS

    1. Yeah, Right

      “But there is no evidence backing up the state’s deterrence theory.”

      Irrelevant, and I have no idea why you bring it up.

      Regardless of whether home-demolition-as-deterrent is effective, ineffective or shit-nobody-knows does not matter w.r.t. this fact: it is prohibited under international humanitarian law.

      You can’t demolish the house of something who is living under a belligerent occupation “pour encourager les autres”.

      An occupying power is prohibited from doing that both by the 1907 Hague Regulations and the 1949 Geneva Convention IV.

      Pointing to the “effectiveness” of “house demolishing” is no more valid that pointing out the military advantages that accrue from “take no prisoners”.

      It doesn’t matter if it “works”, doing either is unconditionally prohibited, and every time you do it you are committing a war crime.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Home demolition is collective punishment and that only. It’s against the Geneva conventions, I can’t think of any other country that does this. As Greg Pollock stated so well
      “The State thus refuses compensatory takings, leaving only punishment as rationale (in the example, the property was freely owned by the perpetrator, so could have been justifiably taken as compensation to those harmed, but is not). But there is no necessary direct link to the crime for those expelled; even if there were, demolition would still not be a taking as the property is not converted into compensation. Only retribution and collective punishment remain, and these are forbidden by the Geneva Convention and I’m sure just about all Western law.”

      The monies from the seizure of the property are paid in compensation to victims or their families, just brilliant Greg! Unless the only thing the state of israel is interested in is bloodshed and revenge, not justice. So, they punish with impunity the family of the perpetrator because they are family, no other reason, they are blood relatives. Then, for extra measure, they screw the victim/victim’s family by depriving them of any kind of monetary compensation. What I don’t get is how people are under the grand illusion that israelis are intelligent – this is pretty much the dictionary definition of stupid!

      Reply to Comment
      • Actually, it’s worse than I stated. Seizure is generally limited to fruits of crime. A car used in a drug deal can be seized because it is an accessory. Someone who pays for their house with drug money can similarly be seized. Because money if fungible, just about any asset can be seized if owned by someone convicted of financial crime or drug dealing with that money entering their income.

        But, as I said, the Israeli State is not really seizing anything. They are destroying assets without funneling them into the general fund or using them as victim compensation. That means there is no analogue between Western law cases and Israel, with Israel essentially recurring to blood attaint, where relatives are made guilty of a crime.

        Blood attaint was a form of collective punishment and deterrence, targeting families so the families would control their own. The West abjured this. In the 2nd and 3rd quarter of the 20th Century, another form of blood attaint was the killing of a neighborhood for the act on one within it, or the arbitrary arrest of “associates.”

        Law evolves when punishment is limited to the guilty. The State’s decision to return to demolish is a devolution of law. Some will say, e.g., the US seizes property in criminal conviction. It does, but it minimally sells it off for funds.

        I suspect, though, Israel has terror victim compensation. But these are not funded through property seizure.

        Reply to Comment
        • Sluggo

          I think we found the new millennium anti-Israel version of Sonny and Cher. Although one is a poser and the other will bore you to death.

          Reply to Comment
          • “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.”

            ―Baruch Spinoza

            Reply to Comment
          • Sluggo

            Greg,
            That is an admirable, aspirational quotation on a way to live a life.
            Don’t you think that you are a little too judgmental, however, to hide behind it?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Ginger Eis

      1. For about 6-months now, Egypt has been demolishing the homes of thousands of innocent “Palestinians” along the Gaza border. The demolition orders and notices are either 48hrs or non-existent and there is no form of judicial review, etc. re said orders/notices. +972mag and other political NGOs masquerading as “human rights” organizations are dubiously dead silent on that.

      2. Across the Western world, houses are demolished for several reasons as prescribed by law – sometimes for offences as building without permit. But +972mag and other political NGOs masquerading as “human rights” organizations are dubiously dead silent on that.

      3. But when Israel demolishes ‘A’ house’ that housed a terrorist, shielded his terrorist activities, provided a gathering place for terrorists where they hatch their murderous plans, etc. then +972mag and other political NGOs masquerading as “human rights” organizations go off on an irrational “moral” campaign ranting “collective punishment” even as they have no idea what “collective punishment” means under International law and pretend to understand the law more than professional judges. Hypocrites!

      Reply to Comment
      • 1 – Egypt or other countries are not the topic.
        2/3 – “Across the Western world, houses are demolished for several reasons as prescribed by law”. That’s as clear as mud and legalese mumbo jumbo. No other country does what Israel has done and continues to do. Why? “Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states:
        No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.” This ruling by the Geneva convention is clear to every country but the state of Israel (and Egypt), which demolishes homes with impunity, making the families suffer. If the homes of the 3 settlers who immolated Mohammed Abu Khdeir or the home of the settler that ran over and killed a Palestinian child, etc., etc., had been bulldozed, at least the unjust demolitions would be the “punishment” for all terrorists, Israeli or Palestinian. The fact that it is solely applied to Palestinians, and also against the Geneva convention, gives Israel a huge black eye.

        Reply to Comment
        • Sluggo

          1) it is surely pertinent to expose any double standards that would make your commentary on Israel a farce. You are the editor of a website dedicated to propaganda, so this is not news for you

          Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, Right

        Gustav: “1. For about 6-months now, Egypt has been demolishing the homes of thousands of innocent “Palestinians” along the Gaza border.”

        Err, no.

        The houses that are being demolished are “in Egypt” and they are houses that belong “to Egyptians”.

        None of those houses belong to Palestinians, and none are “in Gaza”.

        And, of course, Sisi insists that fair compensation has already been agreed to between the state and those home-owners.

        Really, Ginger, some fact-checking, please.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Pedro X

      It is a matter of deterrence. Palestinian society and government reward terrorists and their families with life long salaries for their acts of terrorism. The PA spends at least 6% of its budget on funding the salaries of terrorists and their families.

      Demolishing a terrorist’s home is meant to deter others from perpetrating acts of terror.

      Ynetnews today reported:

      “The state noted in its response that the houses are to be demolished for deterrence purposes during a particularly tense security period.

      In the response it was specified that the description was a “technical account of an atrocious crime, well planned by the terrorists, in which the terrorists tried to kill worshipers inside a holy place; a brutal massacre which led to the death of four civilians and an innocent policeman, and the wounding of others.”

      “The state’s response, filed by attorney Yochi Gnessin, emphasized that there was a clear need to deter residents of East Jerusalem, from which emerged several terrorist who carried out recent attacks”

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Didn’t you see the link to the IDF study?

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro appears to have a head full of snappy responses that all amount to a steamy pile of _____(fill in the blank).

          A snippet from above noted IDF report goes against Ex’s assertion “It is a matter of deterrence” (which doesn’t show any evidence of working and even exacerbating the situation – go figure)

          “On the other hand, an internal army study published at the end of 2003 summing up the first 1,000 days of the conflict, said that “as of today, there is no proof of the deterrent influence of the house demolitions.” The number of attacks, said the report, even rose after the army began demolishing houses.

          Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Eitan, who was in charge of the Central Command for the first two years of the intifada, said a few months ago that the house demolitions had the opposite effect than what Israel expected. He said the policy turned into an incentive for attacks motivated by vengeance.

          Ya’alon lately appointed Maj. Gen. (res.) Ze’ev Livne to investigate house demolitions in Khan Yunis during an operation four months ago. Twenty five homes were demolished, without the necessary approval of the General Staff and the Southern Command. Livne has not yet submitted his report.”

          Reply to Comment
          • So in spite of evidence to the contrary, the GoI continues to demolish homes as if it is something that works.

            “The Bible has much to say about fools. The word fool today usually means “a senseless fellow, a dullard.” The biblical definition has the added dimension of “someone who disregards God’s Word.” The Bible lists many characteristics of such a person, often contrasting him with one who is wise. Ecclesiastes 10:2 says, “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.” A fool is one whose wayward heart turns continually toward foolishness. “Fools speak foolishness and make evil plans” (Isaiah 32:6). Proverbs 26:11 says, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” Fools do not learn their lessons from the mistakes they make. They continue doing the same foolish things over and over again, to their own destruction (Proverbs 18:7).

            The following is a partial list of some characteristics of a fool from the book of Proverbs: a fool hates knowledge (1:22), takes no pleasure in understanding (18:2), enjoys wicked schemes (Proverbs 10:23), proclaims folly (Proverbs 12:23), spurns a parent’s discipline (15:5), speaks perversity (19:1), is quick-tempered (12:16), gets himself in trouble with his proud speech (14:3)”

            Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/fool-Bible.html#ixzz3KwK1rRGt

            Reply to Comment
          • Lo

            Come on, Marnie. You can show Pedro’s arguments to be obfuscatory and vacuous without resort to scripture.

            Your religious knowledge is no doubt expansive and provides a moral foundation for you and others. However, I worry what happens when someone can then flip to a different page of the same book and justify the exact opposite behavior.

            There are simple issues of compliance with international humanitarian law and not looking like a 19th century, blood-soaked backwater to compel Israel to stop this barbaric practice. Pedro’s reflexive defense of it can be ventilated just on the basis of its own paucity of reason.

            Reply to Comment
          • I appreciate what you say and would add that I am expressing an opinion and something that is meaningful to me, it doesn’t have to mean diddly squat to you, Pedro or anyone else.

            Reply to Comment
        • Whiplash

          Moshe Ya’alon who was Israeli Chief of Staff at the time of the report does not accept the report’s conclusion. It is my understanding that the Shin Bet supports the demolitions. The Supreme Court has approved the practice.

          Israel needs to give no quarter to terrorists and should take harsh measures to deter terrorists from murdering babies and worshipers.

          Canadians and Americans tear down houses of drug dealers and send their families into the street. Israel needs to do the same with terrorists until they get the message.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            This is priceless. Because “America” (you should be saying “the American government”) thinks it’s OK to throw the families of drug dealers out into the street, nobody should criticize Israel for doing the same thing to the families of terrorists.

            Have you stopped to consider how many Americans might be opposed to such a practice (and the War on Drugs in general)?

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            W: “Israel needs to give no quarter to terrorists and should take harsh measures to deter terrorists from murdering babies and worshipers.”

            All very emotive, I’m sure, but note this bit: “Israel needs to give no quarter to terrorists”

            Whippy, baby, the state has already shown “no quarter” to the terrorists that committed those crimes.

            There are the bodies of those terrorists and, yep, they are indeed riddled with bullets.

            So claiming that these demolitions represent “no quarter to terrorists” is nonsense: it is “vengeance”, plain and simple, inflicted by the state upon people who WERE NOT RESPONSIBLE for the terrorist acts that has caused the Israeli leadership to fly into a mindless rage.

            Blind, stupid, illegal, and committed by people who claim to be smart.

            W: “Canadians and Americans tear down houses of drug dealers and send their families into the street.”

            No, the state seizes the houses and uses the proceeds to pay compensation to the victims of those crimes.

            Neither Canada nor the USA indulges in pointless acts of vengeful rage.

            Mainly because – du’oh! – they understand how pointless that is.

            W: “Israel needs to do the same with terrorists until they get the message”

            No, it’s not allowed to.

            Canada and the USA are “sovereigns” in their own territory. If they want to seize the assets of criminals in their own sovereign territory then that’s their sovereign prerogative.

            But Israel is the “occupier”, and therefore is not supreme i.e. it does not possess “sovereignty”, merely “authority” over that territory and its inhabitants.

            That “authority” derives from International Humanitarian Law, and IHL prohibits exactly this sort of vengeance-taking collective punishment.

            Honestly, you really don’t have a clue what you are talking about.

            Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, Right

        PX: “Demolishing a terrorist’s home is meant to deter others from perpetrating acts of terror”

        Then Israel has just committed a grave violation of international humanitarian law.

        IHL prohibits an occupying power from inflicting punishment “pour l’encouragement des autres”

        It does so here:
        Hague Regs: “No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible”

        And it does so here:
        GC IV: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”

        Claiming (and, indeed, this is what Israel is claiming) that these houses must be destroyed to “send a message” regarding crimes that – axiomatically – have not been committed is as good as a confession that I Am An Unreconstructed War Criminal.

        Pedro must be so proud!

        Reply to Comment
    5. Richard

      When it comes to Israel, “human rights” NGOs have about as much credibility as “The Human Fund.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Richard you have a masterful knack of issuing cryptic / incoherent one liners. You might mean that the Israeli government largely ignores human rights issues, which would of course be correct, since on matters like administrative detention, political assassination, torture and punitive house demolitions it ignores international humanitarian law and argues that Israeli / British mandate law is superior to the Geneva conventions. You might be inferring by your use of quote marks, that there are bogus groups that claim to support human rights, but actually have ulterior motives. Again you might be right but you need to be more specific about who you are referring to: for instance Shurat HaDin (the Israel Law Centre) claims that it “utilizes court systems around the world to go on the legal offensive against Israel’s enemies.” It thus seeks to protect “Jewish rights worldwide”. Thus we have two different concepts – human rights which apply to all human beings, and “Jewish rights” which should more correctly be called “Jewish wrongs”. Perhaps of course you just reflexively came to Israel’s defence without any coherent thought as to what point you were trying to make.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Danny

      The day Israel demolishes homes of Jewish terrorists (and there are plenty of those), I will be in favor of this tactic. Until then, it is just another example of the discriminatory nature of the Jewish State.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Shame on you Danny (:-)) The punitive supposed “deterrence” of alleged perpetrators of violence by destroying the homes of innocent family members is simply ineffective, immoral and illegal, whether it is applied to Jews or non-Jews. The strength of the progressive pro-Palestine movement is that it occupies the moral high ground on all matters, so do not let frustration or petulance drive into suggesting that the policies would be just if only they were applied consistently. They are simply wicked policies whoever they were to be directed against.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Mikesailor

      WEhiplash’s problem is that he lies like a flea-infested rug. The US does NOT destroy the houses of drug dealers thereby throwing families into the street. There are only two ways the government destroys private property. First, they can exercise “eminent domain” where the government , after notice and trial, seeks a court order after paying compensation to the property owner. The government must pay fair market value and can only take the property for what is deemed a “public purpose” such as building a road, school etc. The other is if the property in question is derelict and abandoned. Then the government, after diligently searching for the owner, can attemprt to have the property deemed a “public nuisance or hazard”. You still have to have an order issued by a competent, disinterested magistrate. Now compare that due process to Israel where any Jewsih clown with a modicum of “authority” can demolish property without reference to property ownership, or any rights retained by the innocent inhabitants. No court order necessary, no due process, no trial or even a hearing. And never is the property destroyed owned by Jews. Furthermore, the so-called “defendant” is usually dead, shot by Israeli “security forces” which are called armed thugs in any other country. I used to call the Israeli legal system a “kangaroo court” until I realized I was insulting Australian marsupials who have more of a sense of jusdtice and legality than any inhabitant of the so-called “Jewish” state or its Zionist apologists.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        The entire +972 site is an extended exposing and examination and dismantling of hasbarist dishonesty. Distraction and deceit are the most consistent themes. The second most consistent theme is sheer thuggery. It’s an eye opener.

        Reply to Comment
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