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Demolition of Palestinian Houses by Israeli Occupying Forces as a Means of Punishment and Determent

A Report on the Demolition of Houses of Families of Palestinians Who Carried out, Planned or Facilitated Armed Attacks against Israeli Targets

29/9/2000 – 31/12/2002



On 1 August 2002, the Israeli government officially adopted a policy of demolishing the houses of families of Palestinians who have carried out, planned or facilitated attacks against Israeli targets, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) or inside Israel, as a deterrent to others. In reality, this method has been used since 1967, when the Israeli military first occupied the Palestinian Territories.

Israeli occupying forces have destroyed thousands of Palestinian houses belonging to family members of those who have allegedly participated in resistance activities against the Israeli occupation. This has left thousands of Palestinian families homeless. The policy escalated during the first Palestinian Intifada (1987-1994), as Israeli occupying forces destroyed hundreds of Palestinian houses because certain members of the families had participated in attacks against Israeli targets in the OPT or inside Israel. The number of Palestinian houses destroyed by Israeli occupying forces significantly decreased when the Palestinian National Authority was established, in 1994, and held control over some areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. When the al-Aqsa Intifada began, in September 2000, Israeli occupying forces reactivated this policy.  They have destroyed dozens of Palestinian houses because certain members of the family have participated in resistance activities.

This reestablished policy is fully supported by the Israeli political administration, especially by the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is known for destroying Palestinian houses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip when he was the military commander of the Gaza Strip in the 1970s and the Israeli Defense Minister in the 1980s. In an assertion of the resumption of this policy, the former Israeli Defense Minster Benjamin Ben Eli’zer, said in a weekly meeting of the Israeli cabinet: “Israel has escalated the policy of demolishing houses of those who were involved in suicide bombings and 17 houses have been demolished. We see initial results that prove this step works as a means of deterrent.”[1] Ben Eli’zer went on to equate a calm period in the OPT with the success of Israeli policy and stated that “the relative quietness is the outcome of means of determent and life calculation by Palestinians.” He added that “the number of those who attempt to carry out suicide bombings has decreased,” explaining this by “Israel’s use of various methods, such as house demolition and deportation.”[2] The Judicial Advisor of the Israeli government Eliakim Rubenstein further approved of “destroying houses of the families of those who carried out attacks against Israel,” in his response to a request by the Israeli General Security Service to allow the expulsion of relatives of “suicide bombers” and the demolition of their houses to deter Palestinians who think of carrying out bombings. Such a limited understanding of the debilitating effect of this policy, along with its contravention with international humanitarian and human rights law has serious repercussions for the civilian Palestinian population in the OPT.

This policy also enjoys the support of the highest judicial body in Israel. On 6 August 2002, the Israeli High Court decided to allow Israeli occupying forces to demolish the houses of Palestinian resistance activists, relying on article 119 of the 1945 Emergency Regulations (from the time of the British Mandate).[3] Furthermore, the Israeli High Court rejected an appeal submitted by human rights organizations on behalf of 40 Palestinian families requesting that the court order Israeli occupying forces to tell these families when their houses would be demolished. The court supported the position of the Israeli occupying forces and security bodies, which claimed that telling the families when their houses would be demolished would pose a danger to the lives of Israeli soldiers during the demolition. The court considered that these measures “are part of the combat activities of the Israeli military, so they are controlled by the rules of combat.”[4]

This report highlights a serious grave breach perpetrated by Israeli occupying forcesthe demolition of houses of families of Palestinians who allegedly carry out, plan or facilitate attacks against Israeli targets in the OPT or inside Israel. The hundreds of Palestinian houses that have been demolished by Israeli occupying forces since the beginning of the Intifada for other reasons, such as the lack of building licenses or for security claims that they have posed danger to the lives of Israeli soldiers and settlers, are not included in this report. The demolition of houses of Palestinian resistance activists is a form of collective punishment against all Palestinian civilians, which is prohibited by international humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949. Israeli occupying forces do not provide any evidence of the involvement of these Palestinians in attacks against Israeli targets, and often depend on Israeli security reports without allowing those accused to a fair trial.

Since the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, Israeli occupying forces have demolished 20 houses of Palestinian resistance activists, without any media exposure, during incursions into Palestinian areas or in special operations. However on 1 August 2002, the Israeli government declared its official adoption of the policy.

According to PCHR’s documentation, in the period under study, 29 September 2000 – 31 December 2002, Israeli occupying forces demolished 139 Palestinian houses, claiming that members of the families participated in carrying out, planning or facilitating attacks against Israeli targets in the OPT or inside Israel. Those family members were wanted, detained or killed by Israeli occupying forces. Israeli occupying forces also demolished houses of Palestinian families for hosting Palestinian resistance activists. They also demolished houses of Palestinians who carried out attacks against Israeli targets during the first Palestinian Intifada (1987-1994).

This Israeli policy has been criticized by international human rights organizations. In a press release it issued on 6 August 2002, Amnesty International condemned the Israeli High Court ruling that allowed the demolition of houses belonging to families of people who are believed to have carried out attacks against Israelis. Amnesty International asserted that “the Israeli High Court accepted the use of Article 119 of the 1945 Emergency Regulations (from the time of the British Mandate), which allows the military commander to order the demolishing of any house; where any person or member of the household has not only had any weapon, gun or incendiary device, but also has helped anyone with any weapon, gun or incendiary device.”

The full report is available PDF format.