Demolishing Houses - Tried and Tested

Apparently, the Palestinians are a nation endowed with a very short memory. The demolition of houses did not prevent the first intifada, nor the second, nor the plethora of murderous terror attacks that occurred between the two.

The Israel Defense Forces has already hastened to say that there is no way of totally preventing suicide terror attacks, and, therefore, there should be no complaints if after the demolition of five homes of Palestinians whose family members have taken part in such attacks, the bombings continue. There is also no reason to suspect the Director of Military Intelligence, Major General Aharon Ze'evi, of not speaking the truth when he reported to the Knesset that the demolition of houses had already prevented five suicide terror attacks. Even if it has prevented only one such attack, it is worth it.

According to Ze'evi, to be precise, demolishing houses is not a collective punishment, but a deterrent weapon, and its efficacy must be judged accordingly. Therefore, as he sees it, the question does not concern human rights issues or the contorted provisions of the Geneva Convention; instead, what we have here is purely a military issue. This claim, however, raises a number of questions.

The demolition of houses is not a new invention. Since the early 1970s, the IDF has been using this horrific means to deter terrorists. The pictures of families that had known nothing about their children's activities, or did not have it in their power to prevent them, fill the archives of the newspapers in Israel and the world back from the days when any terror attack in which there were casualties led to demolitions. Even houses in which weapons or explosives had only been stored were demolished, or at least slated for demolition. And yet, despite the wholesale destruction that has affected hundreds of houses, the Palestinians have not learned their lesson.

Apparently, this is a nation endowed with a very short memory. The demolition of houses did not prevent the first intifada, nor the second, nor the plethora of murderous terror attacks that occurred between the two.

And do the Palestinians not know how to distinguish between the demolition of houses that is intended to deter and the demolition of houses that is intended to punish? After all, houses have been demolished as punishment through the use of bulldozers, planes or controlled explosive charges even during the past year. Entire streets have been razed by bulldozers; and helicopter missiles that liquidated wanted men, in a targeted way, have, in some cases, destroyed entire houses. How could the Palestinians have known what was intended? Perhaps something in the Israeli propaganda was not right. Someone did not bother to attach a clear label to every single demolition.

Now they will know and there will no longer be any room for misunderstanding. But immediately another question arises: How many houses must be demolished in order to produce deterrence? As noted, hundreds of houses have been demolished and have not deterred. And, therefore, from where comes the certainty in the working assumption that "if you hit the Arab in the place where it hurts him, in his pocket, he will surrender?" Indeed, this was also the working assumption for the opposite situation, whereby if you give the Arab work and entertainment, he will forget his national sentiments. Something didn't work right in this thesis.

And there is yet another assumption in the equation that posits houses in return for quiet. This assumption holds that imbued with burning faith, suicide terrorists, the ones who have been infected with the supreme religious aspiration to go to Paradise and enjoy the favors of holy virgins, will relinquish the delights of the world to come for the sake of a pile of concrete and cement. Herein lies the dilemma. If we are talking about people who have no conscience, there is no reason to believe that they would care about their parents at all. However, it was only a few weeks ago that we were informed, by people who understand Arabs, that there are suicide terrorists who do what they do only because their families will get aid and will be lifted out of their poverty thanks to the deeds of their sons. In other words, this is not a question of profound belief, but rather an economic way out. Let us suppose that they are right. How, then, will deterrence be achieved through the demolition of houses? A house, of course, is an important economic asset, but a house does not assure a living. Suicide does.

However, it is doubtful that logic plays a role any longer. Facing the lack of efficacy in military moves and the lack of hope that these moves will lead to any kind of solution, any person with an idea, any folk-healer, magician or inventor can have his moment of glory these days. Demolishing houses? Why not?