A military committee appointed by Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon to examine the policy of house demolitions has recommended stopping them. The interim conclusions of the committee were presented last week to Ya'alon, who asked for some more information for the final draft.
The committee was headed by Maj. Gen. Udi Shani, of the General Staff. The chief of staff asked the committee to find out if the demolition of the homes of families that include terrorists, especially suicide bombers, was achieving its goal of deterring other Palestinians from getting involved in terror activity.
Shani reached the conclusion that no effective deterrence was proven, except in a few cases, and that the damage to Israel caused by the demolitions was greater than the benefits because the deterrence, limited if at all, paled in comparison to the hatred and hostility toward Israel that the demolitions provoked among the Palestinians.
In the period when the policy was applied, from the summer of 2002 to last summer, the army demolished 270 homes of families of terrorists, mostly in the West Bank. The house demolitions continued until recently. However, the Shani committee deals with a broader policy - and has reservations about demolishing houses if the violence resumes in the territories. Shani did not deal with the demolition of homes in Gaza, which were meant to reduce the threat to IDF outposts and roads used by Israelis, by creating empty areas between the Palestinian neighborhoods and the potential targets.
The house demolition policy has been controversial from the start. The IDF often presented cases in which family members turned in their sons before they went on an attack, explaining that they worried their house would be demolished if their son went on a terrorist attack. However, it turns out there were no more than 20 such cases during the entire intifada.
A senior officer who supports the demolition policy told Haaretz that he thinks it was effective - as long as the houses involved belonged to suicide bombers and those who sent them and the punishment was not extended to include those involved in shooting incidents or less serious crimes, as happened sometimes.
On the other hand, an internal army study published at the end of 2003 summing up the first 1,000 days of the conflict, said that "as of today, there is no proof of the deterrent influence of the house demolitions." The number of attacks, said the report, even rose after the army began demolishing houses.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Eitan, who was in charge of the Central Command for the first two years of the intifada, said a few months ago that the house demolitions had the opposite effect than what Israel expected. He said the policy turned into an incentive for attacks motivated by vengeance.
Ya'alon lately appointed Maj. Gen. (res.) Ze'ev Livne to investigate house demolitions in Khan Yunis during an operation four months ago. Twenty five homes were demolished, without the necessary approval of the General Staff and the Southern Command. Livne has not yet submitted his report.