Less than two weeks after Israel’s high court lifted an injunction on punitive house demolitions, Israeli bulldozers arrived in Qabatiya in the occupied West Bank on Monday morning and razed three homes.
The houses belonged to the relatives of the young men accused of an attack at Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem in early February that left an Israeli border police officer dead.
All three youths were shot to death at the scene of the incident.
By the end of Monday, 20 people were left homeless in Qabatiya.
Since last October, not a month has gone by without the Israeli army using Regulation 119, a British Mandate era ruling which says the army can demolish the family home of an alleged Palestinian assailant for deterrent purposes.
In total, 21 homes have been punitively demolished in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in the last six months. An additional 36 neighboring apartments and homes have been damaged in the process.
In each case, human rights organization HaMoked has filed a petition on behalf of the family asking Israel’s high court to halt the demolition.
HaMoked argues that the practice constitutes collective punishment and is a violation of international law.
The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from demolishing property “except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
Until last Thursday, the court had dismissed every petition, upholding its decades-old precedent.
In its decision regarding the homes in Qabatiya, the court’s vice-president, Elyakim Rubinstein, wrote that secret evidence provided by Israel’s security agencies supported the argument that home demolitions serve as a deterrent.
“We do not find pleasure in these cases,” Rubinstein wrote, “but the necessity cannot be denied and amidst our people and its pains we sit, and we must do the best we can to save souls.”
“It should be reiterated and emphasized: the use made by Regulation 119 for the sealing and demolition of perpetrators’ homes is for deterring purposes and not for punitive purposes,” Rubinstein added.
More than a decade ago, a military committee concluded that punitive demolitions achieved the opposite of deterrence, their ostensible aim.
Palestinians targeted by these sorts of revenge demolitions say that they only stiffen their resolve in the face of Israel’s occupation.
Dissenting justice Salim Joubran, the only Arab judge on the Israeli high court, dissented from the latest ruling.
“I was not convinced that the material which was presented to us sufficiently establishes the conclusion that the use of forfeiture and demolition orders creates real and effective deterrence against the execution of attacks,” he wrote.
Joubran is now one of at least four justices who has expressed reservations about the practice in the last six months.
A real shift?
Last week, on 31 March, a three-judge panel granted a family’s petition to halt the demolition of their home ordered after their 21-year-old son Abd al-Aziz Meri was accused of being involved in the slaying of a soldier and a civilian last October.
Judges Menachem Mazuz and Anat Baron argued against the demolition on the basis that Meri’s primary residence was not his parent’s home. He had lived for the last three years in student housing.
But Baron, who is the latest to cast doubt on the practice’s efficacy, based her argument on the fact that occupation authorities did not allege that the family had any knowledge of the planned attack – and therefore could not be accused of “turning a blind eye.”
A Haaretz editorial heralded the decision as a “turning point” in the high court limiting the use of a “draconian” policy.
But the same day the court rejected HaMoked’s petition for an expanded panel of six justices to review the practice.
In another case last month, a panel of judges considered a petition against the demolition of the home of a 15-year-old boy accused of carrying out an attack against settlers in the occupied West Bank’s South Hebron Hills, an area of intense Israeli colonization where several Palestinian villages are slated for total destruction by Israel.
In that case, Baron was in favor of the demolition of the family home, arguing that parents should be held responsible for their children’s acts so that they better supervise them.