Israel’s cruelest punishments reserved for Palestinians

Palestinians inspect the home of the Ghassan Abu Jamal after it was punitively demolished by the Israeli army in East Jerusalem’s Jabal al-Mukabir neighborhood, 6 October.

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

The Abu Jamal family lives in an apartment complex near the bottom of the valley in Jabal al-Mukabir, a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem.

On the building’s top floor, a thin trail of ash leads to what was once Ghassan Abu Jamal’s apartment.

It is now a chaotic mess of mangled iron, piles of jagged cement and destroyed furniture – the remains of a home that was blown up from the inside.

Ghassan Abu Jamal, along with his cousin Udai Abu Jamal, entered a synagogue in West Jerusalem one year ago and shot dead four people before being killed by an Israeli soldier.

On the morning of 6 October, the Israeli army placed enough explosives in Ghassan’s small apartment to destroy it, as well as that of his brother Mouria, who lived next door.

This was the first home to be demolished as part of an onslaught of reprisals Israel has implemented in Jerusalem since a sharp rise in violence began at the start of October.

Israel refers to the practice of destroying the homes of Palestinian resistance fighters or their families as punitive demolitions.

Since then, four more homes have been punitively demolished or sealed by Israel, while seven more demolition orders have been issued and at least 16 homes surveyed for possible destruction.

The policy is holdover from the emergency laws introduced by Palestine’s British colonial rulers in 1945.

Notably, Israel only implements the practice for suspected Palestinian attackers, never for Jewish perpetrators or suspects or their families.

Only for Palestinians

While sitting amongst these ruins under a ceiling that appears on the verge of collapse, Mouria Abu Jamal told The Electronic Intifada: “We don’t leave Jabal al-Mukabir anymore. There is nowhere to go.”

Israel has targeted the residents of Jabal al-Mukabir, especially the Abu Jamal family, with myriad forms of collective punishment: homes have been demolished, residency rights stripped, movement impeded.

When the soldiers arrived at Ghassan’s home the morning of 6 October, it was already empty. Nadia, Ghassan’s wife from a village east of the separation wall in the occupied West Bank, had already had her Jerusalem residency stripped by Israel when her husband died, a move human rights group B’Tselem called “unlawful punishment.”

She was forced to leave Jerusalem in July, along with her three children, aged 3, 4 and 6.

During the pre-dawn demolition of Ghassan’s home, soldiers had beaten Ghassan’s cousin Alaa with their rifles, seriously wounding him. Medical records from the clinic that treated him following the attack state that his right elbow was swollen from “trauma by a heavy object.”

A week later, Alaa drove his car into the Jerusalem light rail and reportedly stabbed several Israelis, killing one and seriously injuring another, before he was shot to death.

Yet Israel maintains that the practice of demolishing the family homes of Palestinian “terror” suspects deters future attacks.

But a decade ago, an Israeli army investigative committee disagreed.

It concluded, in the words of 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.”

Dalia Kerstein of Hamoked, one of the Israeli human rights organizations currently challenging the practice, said that the demolitions expose Israel’s discrimination. But she emphasizes that she is opposed to the practice for anyone.

According to a recent poll, however, 80 percent of Israeli Jews support punitive demolitions of Palestinian homes. More than half said they would oppose doing the same to Jews.

That popularity might be the real reason Israeli leaders continue the practice.

“They call us killers”

Israel occupied East Jerusalem along with the rest of the West Bank in 1967. Its subsequent annexation of the city has not been recognized by any country and was declared null and void by the UN Security Council.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, which the UN Security Council says applies to the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, states that no one “may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed.”

The prohibition on collective punishment includes reprisals against “persons and their property.”

Mouria and his family of three, including a 4-month-old baby, now sleep in the room directly beneath the heavy rubble. The ceiling is cracked and leaking from the heavy weight of the debris, which Mouria said he can’t afford to remove.

There are three more homes in the Abu Jamal complex threatened with demolition: Alaa’s family home, where his 29-year-old wife and three children aged between 4 and 8 live, was immediately issued with a demolition order.

Other members of the family have also received administrative demolition orders from the Israeli-imposed Jerusalem municipality for building without a nearly impossible to obtain permit.

“The municipality does its part,” Hamoked’s Kerstein said, referring to how the city authorities work with the rest of the Israeli system to collectively punish the families of accused Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Israel has erected dozens of roadblocks and checkpoints within Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Mouria, who is 42, said new roadblocks are concentrated inside Jabal al-Mukabir, rather than on the outskirts of the neighborhood as was the case during the second intifada of the early 2000s.

“They divided the village, families. We cannot reach others, children cannot go to school,” Mouria told The Electronic Intifada. He said young children are now forced to take two buses to reach their school instead of one because the routes are impeded.

Ir Amim has been closely monitoring the roadblocks in East Jerusalem.

The Israeli human rights group’s Betty Hirschman told The Electronic Intifada that “while some of the checkpoints and closures separate Palestinian from Jewish neighborhoods, some block internal roads – the most severe and inexplicable form of collective punishment, prohibiting school access for children among other ramifications.”

And at the checkpoints surrounding the neighborhood, Mouria said he and his family are singled out by the soldiers operating them: “We are forced to take off our clothes, they call us killers.”

Following his cousin Ghassan’s attack in November, Mouria was fired from his construction job and hasn’t been able to find work since.

Mutaz, Udai’s brother, was also fired from his gardening job following the attack.

“Once they see our name, it’s over,” said Mouria, who added that he has now stopped looking for work.

The fate of Alaa’s family, along with all families whose sons have been accused of perpetrating attacks, now rests with the Israeli high court, which has so far ruled consistently in favor of punishing family members.

On 22 October, the court temporarily stayed the demolitions, asking for more evidence that supports the state’s assertion that they function as a deterrent.

The Israeli government submitted secret evidence in support of its claims.

But for Mouria, the purpose of the home demolitions, the checkpoints and the constant harassment by soldiers is clear: “They want to show their power.”

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in Oakland, California. Twitter: @CharESilver.