Israel orders the demolition of the family home of a man who has only been charged, and not convicted, of murder. A government official says the policy is being reinstated to ‘level the playing field’ with Palestinians, while human rights groups say the practice only harms innocents.
The Israeli government announced that it will return to demolishing the family homes of Palestinians suspected and convicted of involvement in terrorism and other violence. The first demolition order was issued against the family home of a man accused of murdering an off-duty police officer and wounding his family earlier this year.
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem was quick to point out that the policy harms only innocents and not the accused. Thirteen people, including eight children, none of whom have been accused of or charged with any crime, live in the home slated to be demolished.
The order must be approved by an Israeli court.
Israel stopped using home demolitions as a punitive measure in 2005 following an Israeli army report that said the policy did not act as an effective deterrent against terrorism. In the previous four years, Israel demolished 664 Palestinian homes as punishment for family members’ suspected or proven involvement in terrorism, according to B’Tselem.
Ziad Awawde, 42, and his teenage son stand accused of murdering Baruch Mizrahi and wounding his wife and two children on Passover eve this year. Awawde was arrested in May and the Shin Bet only announced his arrest on the day of his indictment in a West Bank military court Monday. A demolition order was issued and posted on his family’s home within 24 hours.
Although Israeli military courts have an astounding 99 percent conviction rate, Awawde has yet to be convicted. His family, speaking to Channel 10 news Wednesday, denied his involvement in the murder.
An Israeli “government official” told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that the home demolitions were being reinstated “in order to level the playing field.” Israel, according to foreign reports, has at least 100 nuclear weapons, the strongest military in the region and fully controls the entire West Bank, including areas purportedly under Palestinian Authority control.
Illegal under international law
In the decades during which Israel carried out punitive home demolitions, B’Tselem noted, “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.”
According to Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the destruction of private property is permitted only “where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.” Punitive actions, of course, are not necessary for military operations, defined as “the movement, maneuvers, and actions of any sort, carried out by the armed forces with a view to combat.”
The decision to renew the policy of punitive home demolitions is in line with a number of other un-democratic and otherwise problematic measures the Israeli government is implementing, or considering, in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers 12 days ago.
The military has arrested nearly 400 Palestinians since the start of Operation Brother’s Keeper, only 30 of whom, according to media reports, are actively being interrogated in relation to the kidnappings. Authorities have also stated they will keep hundreds of the arrestees in custody under administrative detention, a process in which a suspect is imprisoned without ever being charged with a crime.
Many of those arrested in the past two weeks are prisoners who were released in the 2011 Gilad Schalit prisoner swap. According to the conditions of their release, they can be re-imprisoned if they violate the individual terms of their release, which often includes restrictions on their movement. The evidence in military hearings that decide their fate is kept secret from the suspects and their attorneys.
Israel’s Channel 10 News on Monday reported that the Shin Bet was searching for reasons to keep those from the Schalit deal in custody, instead of having arrested them based on existing suspicions.
Responding to Israeli administrative detention practices, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said last year, “Under international law, detainees have the right to be informed about the reasons underlying any detention and to have the legality of their detention determined without undue delay.”
The army has also arrested a number of elected Palestinian officials, including the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who is a member of Hamas. Twenty-three elected members of the PLC are currently being held in Israeli detention and prison facilities.