Israel’s high court has backed the government’s policy of demolishing the family homes of those accused of perpetrating acts Israel defines as terrorism, while shielding the families of Jewish perpetrators from the same fate.
The ruling came as Israeli authorities began implementing a new wave of collective punishments against the families of prisoners and slain Palestinians.
But while rejecting the Abu Khudair petition, the court reaffirmed the state’s right to demolish the homes of Palestinians accused of attacks, reinforcing a glaring double standard.
In July 2014, three Israelis grabbed the 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khudair from near his home in occupied East Jerusalem, took him to a forest and bludgeoned and burned him alive.
The ringleader of the attack, Yosef Haim Ben David, said he wanted to avenge the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank, whose bodies were found days before Muhammad was killed.
“Tolerance for Jewish attackers”
Muhannad Jibara, the Abu Khudair family’s lawyer, told media that his clients did not expect the high court to rule in their favor.
He said their goal had been to “expose the illegal different treatment between how security forces treat Palestinian attackers by destroying their houses, compared to the tolerance for Jewish attackers.”
Jibara also said the family hopes that the court will now reconsider ruling in favor of demolishing a Palestinian’s home.
But Muhammad’s father, Hussein Abu Khudair, said the court’s decision, “encourages [others] to continue hurting us, under the auspices of the state.”
“We’ll turn to an international court so we could get a decision that could punish the terrorists,” he added.
Court justifies discrimination
The Israeli government opposed the Abu Khudairs’ petition, arguing that home demolitions were necessary to deter Palestinian attacks, which supposedly require “special forms of deterrence,” The Jerusalem Post reported.
Israeli authorities claimed that Palestinian and Jewish “terrorists” should be treated differently because Palestinians commit more attacks than Jews.
This reasoning obviously overlooks the fact that the overwhelming majority of conflict-related deaths have been Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli occupation forces, slayings that are carried out with systematic impunity.
The court accepted the government’s argument, ruling that demolishing a Palestinian’s home functions as deterrence, whereas demolishing the home of a Jewish Israeli would be punishment.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Israeli human rights groups including B’Tselem and HaMoked, as well as the UN secretary-general, all maintain the practice is collective punishment, which is a war crime under international law.
In ruling against the Abu Khudair petition, one of the judges, Elyakim Rubinstein, acknowledged that regulation 119 – the Israeli military decree that permits the demolition of an alleged attacker’s home – applies to both Palestinians and Israeli Jews.
But Rubinstein ruled against the Abu Khudairs, writing “the petition should not be granted, first and foremost given the considerable delay between the abominable act of murder and the petition’s submission.”
“Let sinners cease out of the Earth, so we can soon stop using regulation 119 on any of our countrymen, both Jews and Arabs,” Rubinstein wrote.
Regulation 119 has never been used against a Jewish perpetrator.
Attorney Jibara countered Rubinstein’s argument, explaining that the parents had to wait until the three Israelis were convicted of killing their son – a process that took more than two years – before they could petition for the demolitions.
Bogus claim of deterrence
Though “effectiveness” could never justify collective punishment – as a war crime it’s always illegal – the Israeli court’s claim that the demolitions deter is not based on any evidence.
In 2005, a military committee concluded that punitive demolitions achieved the opposite of deterrence, leading to the suspension of the practice.
The committee concluded, in the words of the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz, that “the damage caused by demolitions outweighs their benefits, since whatever discouragement they cause is significantly eclipsed by the level of hate and fury they create.”
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved to reintroduce the practice in 2014, the high court supported his decision, citing the pretext of deterrence.
In 2015, Israel began fast-tracking punitive home demolitions of alleged attackers, razing the family homes of slain Palestinians who were killed allegedly in the course of carrying out an attack, or men who had not yet received any sort of trial or due process.
On the same day that the court rejected the Abu Khudairs’ petition, at least three Palestinian families received punitive demolition orders.
Israel also appears to be collectively punishing the families of Palestininan prisoners who joined the mass hunger strike strike earlier this year.
This week, occupation authorities revoked Israeli entry permits for 37 family members of Palestinians who participated in the 40-day hunger strike.
Ma’an News Agency says families discovered their permits had been revoked when they attempted to travel to visit their imprisoned sons on an International Committee of the Red Cross bus. When they reached an Israeli checkpoint, they were forced back.
And now, Israel seems to be adding a new means to collectively punish families.
Al-Qunbar, 28, was shot dead after he ran a truck into a group of Israeli soldiers at the East Talpiot settlement near Jerusalem in January, killing four and injuring 13.
The lawsuit is demanding al-Qunbar’s widow and young children pay about $572,000 in compensation to the families of each of the four soldiers killed.
Haaretz reports that Israel may be planning similar lawsuits against other families.
Al-Qunbar’s family has already been punished for their relative’s actions. His family’s home was filled with concrete following the attack, and Israel continues to hold his body.
A dozen of al-Qunbar’s relatives – including his mother – had their Jerusalem residency status revoked, and many have been detained, according to Ma’an News Agency.
“The al-Qunbar family is experiencing a revenge campaign by the establishment,” Dalia Kerstein, director of Hamoked, said in response to the lawsuit.