Deterrence? Israel Demolishes Palestinian Assailant's Home – for the Third Time

The Abu Hmeid's family home in the Amari refugee camp was initially destroyed in 1990, and again in 2003, after several of its sons were convicted. It was again demolished on Saturday after their son Islam was accused of the May killing of a soldier

The home of the Abu Hmeid family after it was demolished by Israeli forces in Amari refugee camp near Ramallah, December 15,  2018.
Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

The tear gas still burned the eyes on Saturday, four hours after Israeli army troops blew up the Abu Hmeid family’s home in the small Amari refugee camp at the entrance to the West Bank town of El Bireh. One of the family's sons, Islam Abu Hmeid, is accused of killing an Israeli soldier, Ronen Lubarsky, by dropping a marble slab on him during an army raid on the refugee camp in May.

At the eastern entrance to the camp, stones were strewn on the road, evidence of a nighttime confrontation with the army, but one less harsh than might have been expected. Along the narrow main road that leads up a hill, there were no signs of a clash or of any extraordinary anger or shock. The demolished home was on the top of the hill, next to the main road leading from Jerusalem Street, passersby said matter-of-factly, as if they had been asked where the local picture framer's shop was. The street is under the jurisdiction of the town of El Bireh and the military force used it to deploy in the area at around 1:20 A.M. on Saturday.

No official notice was issued in advance of the demolition of the house, but members of the anti-settlement popular committees had ensconced themselves on the top floor in an attempt to physically delay the demolition.

Ronen Lubarsky of the elite Duvdevan army unit.
Screenshot from Lubarsky's Facebook page.

For his part, Bassem Tamimi from the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh was convinced that the army wouldn’t violate the Sabbath, so he didn’t join his colleagues at the Amari camp. But Abdullah Abu Rahmeh of Bil’in and Munzir Amira of the Aida refugee camp, both activists of the popular committees, were correct in their assessment that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would seek to fulfill his promise and speed up home demolitions and have them carried out within 48 hours.

Supreme Court Justices Yael Willner and Daphne Barak-Erez had already backed the military commander’s order to destroy Abu Hmeid’s home. The third justice on the panel, Justice George Karra, had supported the destruction of only two floors — the first floor, where Abu Hmeid’s mother, Latifa, lived with her son Islam along with another son who is currently being held in Israeli administrative detention; and the fourth floor, which was still being built and had been intended to serve as a home for Islam. Another of Islam's brothers, who is serving a life sentence, had lived on the second floor of the house. The third floor was rented out to another family.

Justice Karra had thought it would be physically possible and appropriate from the standpoint of proportionality to leave the second and third floors standing, but his two colleagues ruled that the aim of the demolition order was deterrence. They therefore also supported an expropriation order that would bar any rebuilding of the home, despite its location in Area A, the portion of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority is allowed to exercise civil and policing functions. 

As reflected in the information provided to the court, deterrence hadn’t worked with the Abu Hmeid family in the past. Four of the family's sons are serving life sentences in prison for murders that they viewed as part of the opposition to the Israeli occupation. The Israeli army destroyed their house for the first time in 1990. After it was rebuilt in 1996 and other sons were convicted of other crimes, the army demolished it again in 2003.

Following the third demolition on Saturday, several members of the Abu Hmeid family, joined by other individuals who came to show support, sat in a large tent on the sidewalk across the street from the site of the home. Islam Abu Hmeid's 72-year-old mother, Latifa, had gone to rest at her brothers’ home, but a number of media outlets had quoted her as saying that, even though this was the third time that the Israelis were destroying her home, they were mistaken if they thought it would frighten her or her family,

Considerable force was used to remove Abu Rahmeh and the other members of the popular committees who had tried to hole themselves up in the house. “I’ve been beaten up before by soldiers,“ said the former teacher, who over the past decade has been trying to revive unarmed popular opposition to the occupation. “But this time it was more painful than usual.”

The soldiers assembled the popular committee members and neighbors of the Abu Hmeid family home in the playground of a nearby school and left them out in the cold for several hours. The soldiers took the women to a building belonging to the Red Crescent emergency medical service.

Two sisters living in a house near the Abu Hmeids said they thought the explosives used to demolish that house would also destroy a portion of their own home. Masked soldiers had bursted into their house around 1 A.M., they said, breaking down a door, rummaging through their closets and breaking some items. “You know how they behave,” one of the two girls said.

They said they were then led to the schoolyard. When they returned, they were pleasantly surprised to see all the walls of their home still standing, although there was some damage. A window had been blown out by the force of the blast. The water tank on the roof had broken open and water was leaking from it into the hallway. Windows' glass had been broken and furniture and bed linens were covered with dust, “but the main thing is that none of the books were damaged,” said one of the two, who was studying for her high school matriculation exams

“She spoke in English to the soldiers who had burst in and that calmed them down,” her mother said proudly.

Earlier Palestinian media had reported that there were clashes between the soldiers and armed Palestinians in the course of the army's operations, but the reports were not true.

“What good does shooting do?” Abu Rahmeh, of the popular committees, asked. “Maybe somebody gets a moment of satisfaction, but it would just provide the army with an excuse to destroy the entire camp.”

Trying to head off another home demolition

Abu Rahmeh, who faces a possible four months in prison if his appeal is denied on Tuesday for riding a bicycle in his village while it was declared a closed military zone, quickly moved on to his next mission — organizing people to barricade themselves inside the home of the Barghouti family in the West Bank village of Kobar. The home is slated for demolition, people assume, based on Netanyahu's declarations.  

On Wednesday afternoon, residents of the West Bank village of Surda near Ramallah called Omar Bargouthi to say they had seen people shooting at his son Saleh’s car from a taxi while he was on his way home from work in Ramallah. Omar Barghouti, who is 67, was released in a 1985 prisoner exchange with Israel, but later spent about 11 years in administrative detention without trial.

“They saw that Saleh had been taken out of his taxi alive,” his mother, Suheir, recounted on Friday, her eyes red. People who had disguised themselves as vegetable salesmen had bundled him into their car and disappeared with him, it was said.

Word of the incident spread and neighbors and relatives began to gather at the family’s home in Kobar. Later the army notified the family that Saleh was suspected of carrying out the shooting attack near Ofra on Sunday of last week. They said he had been killed while trying to flee. Seven Israelis were wounded in that shooting attack, including a woman who was pregnant. Her premature baby was later delivered but died in the hospital.

At around 8:30 P.M., the army broke into the Barghouti home, separated the men from the women and held them in separate rooms for several hours. Explosions from stun grenades could be heard throughout the large village. After midnight, the soldiers arrested Omar Barghouti and his eldest son. A lawyer who visited the father and son informed her that they were taken to Jerusalem's Muskobia detention center for interrogation.

In anticipation of the demolition of their house in Kobar, the Barghouti family has emptied it of most of its contents, including door frames and light bulbs. Some furniture remained in the living room, including chairs on which dozens of women sat grieving on Friday.

“God, give us the patience to bear the pain,” one of the elderly women said. In addressing God, she added: "Revenge is up to you, not us." Life on earth is a laboratory, a younger woman remarked, meaning that Saleh Salah’s life in eternity in the next world is what is important. Allah wanted him, he was God’s favorite, said other women, their sobs and tears proving that the separation is difficult even if you believe in God’s will.

Referring to the Israelis, Suheir Barghouti said: "You’re the terrorists. That’s what I told Captain Diab who came with the soldiers,” Captain "Diab" being an officer from the Shin Bet security service. She is experienced with tthis kind of conversation with Shin Bet officers who have broken many times into her home to arrest or warn her husband in the past.

About a year and a half ago, after another such visit, Omar Barghouti told Haaretz: “I told the captain that I retain the right to hate the occupation and you, and to continue saying that I hate the occupation.”