The state yesterday defended the practice of demolishing the homes of Arabs – but not Jews – suspected of terrorism. State prosecution attorney Aner Hellman told the High Court of Justice that the aim of demolitions is to deter, not to punish. Since there is no need to deter potential perpetrators in the Jewish community, there would be no point in demolishing the homes of Jewish terror suspects, he said.
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The court heard the petition of eight human rights organizations against the state’s policy of demolishing terrorists’ homes. The petitioners say the demolition is a form of collective punishment that violates international law and could in some cases be a war crime.
The petition also raises the issue of discrimination, since home demolition is not practiced against Jews. The petitioners argue that the state did not demolish the homes of the suspected abductors and murderers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, for example.
“Abu Khdeir is a shocking case. But there’s no widespread occurrence from which it is necessary to deter in the Jewish sector,” Helman said. “If it’s not intended for deterrence, the clause shouldn’t be implemented.”
Attorney Michael Sfard, who represented the petitioners, said that even if the demolitions are intended to deter, “they harm innocent people and raise serious moral issues.”
Sfard noted the demolitions violated international law.
“We believe that after 36 or 29 years this issue should be examined, especially since so many changes have occurred in international law since the 1980’sAnyone who teaches international law teaches that that clause is illegal. Jewish law also forbids collective punishment,” Sfard said.
Helman said previous court rulings have settled the issue and that the state uses its authority sparingly. “Where the Israeli and international law clash, Israeli law takes precedence,” he said.
“If this clause [enabling demolitions] were enacted today I believe the court would revoke it, because it contradicts the vital core of Basic Law: Human Dignity,” Sfard said.
Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Esther Hayut and Noam Sohlberg also heard specific petitions against demolishing the family homes of the two terrorists who opened fire in the Har Nof synagogue.
The family’s lawyer Andre Rosenthal denied the claim that the demolition had a deterrent effect. “There’s no evidence of this. The result is the opposite, it leaves the hatred, and the possibility that the remaining family relatives will avenge the demolition of their home,” he said.
There’s no evidence that the family members knew or were involved in the attack, Rosenthal added. “Their only ties to it are blood ties. Are these the values Israel is advancing, demolishing the home of an uninvolved family because maybe it will serve as deterrence? How do we know demolitions deter – they’ve been practiced for decades, have the terror attacks ceased because of them?”
Prosecutor Avinoam Segal Elad cited defense officials’ opinion that demolitions are effective in deterring potential terrorists.
“It’s not possible to prove in numbers how many terror attacks have been prevented, because when an attack is prevented it doesn’t happen,” he said.
Asked by Justice Sohlberg what the defense officials based their opinion on, the prosecutor said “people in the field have testified that it deters people it’s a consideration of whether to enter into terror activity or not. It’s also backed by sources and information the security service has,” he said.