Maybe It Is a Deterrent

The change in attitude toward the house demolitions was not replicated in the matter of the targeted killings. Israel continues to regard those as a legitimate measure, and does not ask if it is a deterrent.

The family of suicide bomber Abdallah Badran, who killed five Israelis and wounded another 50, need not worry. Two weeks ago, the defense minister approved a decision by the chief of staff to halt the practice of demolishing the homes of suicide terrorists. Even if they capture the person who sent the murderer, according to the new decision, his home will not be destroyed. And if there is a decision in the future to once again demolish homes, B'Tselem will once again demand that Israel pay damages to the family of the suicide bomber. If that demand were met, it might be possible to reduce the payments from the compensation that goes to the families of the victims of the suicide attacks.

If the decision had been made in 2001, it would have been forbidden to demolish the home of the suicide bomber from Qalqilyah who killed 21 teenagers at the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv, nor the home of the Tul Karm suicide bomber who murdered 29 people at the Park Hotel in Netanya in 2002.

The current decision was made in the wake of a recommendation by a committee headed by Maj. Gen. Udi Shani that doubted whether house demolitions were a factor in deterring terror. According to that logic, buildings constructed without a license by the occupied population in the territories cannot be destroyed because it won't deter others from building without licenses. There are also family members who live in those buildings who also were not involved in breaking the law. And it could be argued that the thousands of Palestinian detainees, the assassinations and the other steps in the war against terror did not deter others from joining the uprising and committing acts of violence.

The representative of the Shin Bet in the Shani committee opposed the ruling that demolishing the home of a suicide terrorist does not deter at all, and presented proof to back up his argument. When the issue was brought to the forum of the general staff, there was a debate because it was difficult to quantify the intensity of the deterrence.

It should be noted that there were cases when the High Court approved house demolitions for the purpose of deterrence. In any case, the general staff forum does not include voting, and the chief of staff decided what he decided. At the Judge Advocate General's office the decision was termed dramatic.

Now they will have to throw out the letters explaining the IDF's house demolition policies. Only four months ago, on November 7, the IDF Spokesman wrote to B'Tselem, which was in the advanced stages of preparing a report on house demolitions, that "the IDF reckons that house demolition is an efficient measure that serves as a deterrent factor against terror." The committee had already begun its work when the letter was drafted.

It turns out that during the discussions, the committee's mandate was broadened to deal with the matter of homes demolished during combat. It distinguished between justified demolition resulting from operational needs, when a force is fighting for its life, and demolition for observation purposes (the practice known as "exposure") or for protecting the border, as in the Philadelphi corridor region. Some parts of the report have not been published.

What will happen if terror resumes? The lawyers have the feeling that in any case, there will not be a resumption of the house demolitions only for the purpose of deterrence, a method used by the British on an enormous scale during the Arab Uprising in the Land of Israel. The committee report says that "an extreme change" would return the situation to the status quo ante. They did not define "extreme change."

The change in attitude toward the house demolitions was not replicated in the matter of the targeted killings. Israel continues to regard those as a legitimate measure, and does not ask if it is a deterrent. After the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, Israel was ready to state for the record - during a High Court heading on the matter - that it would refrain from using the method unless it was a matter of a "ticking bomb," and that it would only act unilaterally if the circumstances prevent it from coordinating its steps with the Palestinian Authority to eliminate the threat.