Don't destroy terrorists' homes
The bellicose calls to renew the policy of home demolition after the two terrorist attacks in Jerusalem are misguided, as are the varied proposals to revoke the social and civic rights of the relatives of terrorists.
After the terrorist attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, where eight people were murdered in March, and last week's attack in Jerusalem, where three people lost their lives, we are again hearing calls to demolish the homes of people who commit such acts, in which the perpetrators die as well. Among those urging us to consider the option of razing homes are the prime minister and defense minister. Ehud Barak even wrote to the attorney general and defense officials to say that demolishing homes "contains a deterrent effect" (Haaretz, July 3).
House demolition, both as a punitive gesture aimed at the perpetrators of acts of terror, as well as for military needs and deterrence, are based on fairly firm legal foundations, such as regulation (1)119 of the defense regulations in times of emergency, 1945, and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Supreme Court, convened as the High Court of Justice, has regularly approved house demolitions and has tended to refrain from interfering with military commanders' security considerations. The court has interfered only in rare cases to demand that the principle of proportion be maintained. Which is to say that the punitive act be administered in proportion to the severity of the crime.
Granted, the court has seen minority rulings by justices Gavriel Bach and Mishael Cheshin. But the court has ratified in principle the legality of house demolitions in the West Bank, and it is reasonable to assume that it will continue to do so in the future. Yet it seems the question here goes beyond the legality of proportionality. It's more a question of usefulness and common sense.
During the three years of the first intifada, Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip saw the demolition of 330 houses, with 220 other homes sealed. Each demolition was carried out under the close supervision of the military advocate general, while allowing the tenants sufficient opportunity to petition the High Court of Justice.
It seems the damn was not entirely broken during the second intifada, with its hundreds and hundreds of demolished homes. The demolition of homes - and not necessarily homes belonging to terrorists - became a declared policy that was quite commonly employed. In many cases, tenants were afforded legal counsel and/or the privilege of a hearing. But at the height of the second intifada, in 2005, the Israel Defense Forces formed a military committee headed by Major General Udi Shani, which unequivocally recommended putting an end to the demolition of homes in the territories. The chief of staff and the defense minister both fully endorsed and adopted the recommendation.
The recommendation in effect put an end to what had previously been common policy, after that policy was shown to be counterproductive. In its conclusions, the committee said that nowhere was it demonstrated that home demolition put an end to terrorist activity or even substantially curbed it; the move perhaps even increased it. Thus, the deterrent effect was found to have failed.
Home demolition was always considered a harsh and especially severe measure against the local population - perhaps even harsher than the radical step of exile. The use of this harsh and irreversible method has caused the State of Israel incalculable damage in terms of public opinion, in Israel and abroad. The images of families sitting on the rubble of what used to be their homes, grieving over the loss, a small child crying over what's left of his home and vowing to take revenge, an old woman rummaging through the wreckage in search of leftover food and medication - these are all enough to make one's heart cringe and shake one's conscience.
The bellicose calls to renew the policy of home demolition after the two terrorist attacks in Jerusalem are misguided, as are the varied proposals to revoke the social and civic rights of the relatives of terrorists. Could they have something to do with the fact that this is an election year? Those proposals are utterly unnecessary and will only widen the circle of destruction and hatred between the two peoples. The Shani Committee's brave conclusions on the need to halt home demolitions in the occupied territories are worthy of implementation when it comes to terrorists residing in East Jerusalem as well.
Why should we reinstate a policy that has been proven to be unjust and unworthy? If the children have eaten sour grapes, should we now set the teeth of the fathers, the women and children on edge? And if we go ahead and do just that, why not revoke social rights such as pension funds and National Insurance Institution allowances from the family members of common murderers? They, too, inflict unimaginable misery and suffering on their victims. Our sages long ago ruled that each individual is punishable for his or her sins, and not for the sins of others.
The writer is a retired chief military advocate general and a Tel Aviv district judge.