The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) welcomes the decision of the Israeli Army to halt its policy of demolishing Palestinian houses either as punishment for acts of violence or as a deterrent measure. This policy constituted a clear violation of international law, both because it by-passed due process of law in cases where perpetrators were punished before being tried and because it constitutes collective punishment against the families of perpetrators who are innocent of any crime.
The IDF committee recommending the cessation of punitive demolitions did so only because, in its evaluation, demolitions generate more resistance than deterrence among the Palestinians. It would have been gratifying had human rights and international law received even a gratuitous nod. Still, any reduction in the policy of house demolitions is to be welcomed.
That said, it is important to point out that punitive demolitions represent only a small part of house demolitions. The IDF claims to have demolished 270 Palestinian homes under this policy; B’tselem reports 672 homes. This type of demolition, then, represents only 5-15% of the 4000-5000 Palestinian homes demolished during the four years of the Intifada - only 3-5% of the 12,000 homes demolished in the Occupied Territories since 1967.
Fully 60% of the Palestinian homes demolished during the Intifada were destroyed in military operations according to B’tselem; this type of demolition, too, will hopefully stop as military operations cease. The other 25% of homes demolished - more than 1000 homes of innocent Palestinian civilians with no connection to violence or resistance - were demolished by court order because the families were unable to obtain building permits. This last type of demolition, intended to confine the Palestinian population to small enclaves in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, continues apace.
The decision to halt a particular form of house demolition, then, derives from a purely tactical evaluation of effectiveness. It does not represent a gesture of reconciliation towards the Palestinians, or even an implicit recognition of international law. While the decision is to be welcomed, its lack of connection to a wider peace process can only be regretted.