Israeli security forces have demolished 45 homes of families of terrorists since 2015, and requests for another four demolitions are currently pending, the head of the Defense Ministry’s operations department, Eran Uliel, told a session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday.
Forty of the homes that were destroyed were in the West Bank and five were in the Jerusalem area, Uliel said. The data presented show that the process of demolishing the home of a terrorist’s family takes an average of two months from the date of the terror attack.
Over the past four years, no relatives of terrorists have been expelled from the West Bank or Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip, defense officials said, explaining that since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, there has been no legal basis for expulsions to the Strip, which has been controlled by Hamas since 2007. There is also no basis for forcibly relocating the families within the West Bank absent suspicion that the relatives themselves were involved in the terrorist activity, it was noted. There have been numerous bills submitted over the past several years to allow the deportation of terrorists’ families, but none of them have gotten anywhere.
The parents of those killed in terrorist attacks, along with representatives of the Almagor terror victims’ association and the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu, were invited to attend the open session of the committee, which dealt with policies at Israel’s disposal to deter terrorism. All of those invited said the pace of home demolitions should be stepped up.
The committee received proposals from other right-wing groups that suggested other punitive measures, among the canceling Israeli citizenship, withdrawing work permits and imposing economic sanctions on terrorists’ relatives. At the open portion of the committee session, no evidence was presented showing that any of the various punitive measures effectively deterred terrorist attacks.
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A representative of the National Security Council, Rani Peled, told the committee that in the past three years there had been a resumption of home demolitions at the initiative of the security cabinet.
The current policy is subject to an orderly process that was signed off upon by the attorney general and lays out the time frame of the process, from the surveying of the home to the actual demolition, he said.
The plan is for the process to take a minimum of two weeks, which is a difficult deadline to meet. It depends a lot on the High Court of Justice, which seeks to handle these cases swiftly, Peled said.
The legal adviser for Judea and Samaria Col. Eyal Toledano described the process that leads to a home demolition, which begins on the day of the terror attack. “The process is supervised by the highest levels of the Justice Ministry, because in 43 of these 45 demolitions, petitions were submitted to the High Court of Justice. While it’s officially a decision by the regional military commander, it’s a complex system of officials and considerations in which the army is not the only player.”
Asked by committee chairman MK Avi Dichter (Likud) about the amount of time needed to demolish a home, Toledano answered: “At one end we had a case like the terror attack in Halamish, in which the demolition was carried out within three weeks, and at the other end we have cases in which the demolition took place four months or even half a year after the attack. The average is around two months after the attack.”
Iris Hajbi, mother of the Ziv Hajbi, who was killed three weeks ago in the attack in Barkan told the lawmakers, “The home of my son’s murderer is still standing. When he killed my son he didn’t tell himself now I’ll take off an arm or a leg. He came with the intent to kill Jews. We cannot just say we’ll only destroy one floor of his home… take his family and send them away from here.”
Hajbi added that without such a deterrent punishment, “We’re not worth anything in this country.”
Rafi Levengrond, the father of Kim Levengrond-Yehezkel, who was killed in that same attack, said the lawmakers were elected “to legislate and tell the army what to do. I ask that you legislate instructions for the army to carry out the law, to destroy the house and not just remove a little plaster or just a room or entryway.”
Miriam Fuld, widow of Ari Fuld, who was killed six weeks ago in an attack in Gush Etzion said: “I’m a widow because there’s nothing to deter these murderers. If all the acts of deterrence were indeed carried out then Ari may have still been with us. It’s been a month and a half since the murder and their house is still standing. We have to show them that they have to pay a price. That it’s not enough to try a murderer, it isn’t enough.”
MK Michal Rozin of Meretz said “It’s painful and difficult to listen to the bereaved families, but destroying houses won’t stop terrorism or violence, but will only encourage more. A political resolution is the only way to do away with terrorism. We must keep in mind the international repercussions for Israel’s status and the repercussions in terms of the Israel Defense Forces and our society’s values.”
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has already established that the home of a terrorist who is mentally unstable cannot be demolished, despite the demands of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Addressing the case of Abdul Rahman Bani Fadel of the village of Aqraba, who murdered Adiel Kolman in a terror attack in Jerusalem’s Old City in March, Mendelblit wrote that in this case demolishing the home would not have the intended deterrent effect.
“When a person is not responsible for his actions due to a mental deficiency, the deterrent purpose for which this authority is intended cannot exist,” Mendelblit wrote. “This person can’t rationally consider the possibility that the home in which he lives could be destroyed, and consequently refrain from carrying out the terror act that we are trying to deter.”
Mendelblit was responding to Lieberman’s protest over the refusal by the army and Justice Ministry to demolish the home after his family presented medical records showing he was mentally ill. Lieberman, in a letter to Mendelblit, expressed concern that, “From now, the family of every murderer will try to attribute the attack to his mental state so as to avoid having their home demolished.”