Does Destroying the Homes of Palestinian Attackers Deter Others?

That's what Israeli leaders say. What about the facts?

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A Palestinian woman stands in the ruins of a house that was demolished by the Israeli army, in the Qalandiya refugee camp  on Nov. 16.  It was home to a Palestinian who allegedly shot and killed an Israeli.
A Palestinian woman inspects a house that was razed by the Israeli army, in the Qalandiya refugee camp on Nov. 16. It was home to a Palestinian who allegedly shot and killed an Israeli. Credit: AP

Young Palestinians attending the funerals of those who have been killed can be heard chanting the following: “Oh mother of the martyr, how lucky you are. If only my mother were in your place.” They are lying. They know full well that the mother of the shahid, the martyr, is grief-stricken and that their own mothers are not prepared to trade places with her. All you need to do is witness the sobbing of relatives and friends over other young people who have been killed to understand the extent to which the chant is detached from reality.

It’s hard to gauge the true extent of the chant’s effect on all the young people who in recent weeks have decided to seek death by attacking Israelis. What is clear, however, is that they are in no way influenced by official Israeli statements, the most recent of which came from State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, to the effect that Israel’s demolition of the homes of terrorists is a means of deterrence. In other words, the learned claim that the way to stop additional attacks is by demolishing more Palestinian homes is a lie.

On October 6, security forces in Jerusalem destroyed two homes and sealed another house of Palestinians who murdered Israelis in the city and were killed in the incidents. Those who suffer the consequences are the Palestinians’ families. The demolitions, with the stamp of approval of the Israeli High Court of Justice, were carried out hastily in the wake of two fatal attacks the week before, in which four Israelis were murdered and another was wounded in a stabbing.

And what happened the week after the High Court’s act of deterrence? The start of a trend in which about three stabbings or attempted stabbings took place every day. On October 7, there were three knife attacks in three cities inside Israel. On October 8, there were four stabbings, followed the next day by a stabbing in Jerusalem and another in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba. (And in Dimona, a Jew stabbed a Palestinian, while in Afula police riled by public hysteria shot a young female resident of Nazareth who hadn’t hurt anyone.)

On October 10, there were two knifings in Jerusalem. The following day there was a car ramming and stabbing attack in Gan Shmuel (and an Israeli report, denied by the Palestinians, of an attempted attack involving gas canisters in Ma’aleh Adumim). On October 12, there was one stabbing, two foiled stabbings and an attempt to steal a weapon in Jerusalem, followed the next day by two stabbing attacks in Ra’anana in which several people were wounded and two attacks in Jerusalem in which four Israelis were murdered. The two fatal attacks were committed by three residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber, the Jerusalem neighborhood in which the two homes were demolished on October 6 as a deterrent step.

The daily pace of the attacks and attempted attacks continued until October 19. In the meantime, the hub of the attacks in this lone-wolf uprising has shifted from Jerusalem to Hebron. And because the deterrent tactic has so proven itself, on October 20, on instructions from Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, our forces destroyed the Hebron home of an individual who murdered an Israeli woman last year. And what happened just hours after the demolition? There were three stabbing attacks and one attack involving a truck (although the Palestinian driver claimed it was an accident).

Between November 14 and December 3, the justices and army commanders sent in forces to demolish another seven Palestinian homes: five in Nablus, one in Qalandiyah and one in the Shoafat refugee camp. Have you heard about any halt in the stabbing attempts? It’s impossible to know whether the most recent Israeli fatalities are due directly to the High Court’s approval of the home demolitions. All we do know for sure is that the justices’ ruling didn’t prevent the deaths of those Israelis.

In an effort to cover up the failure of the deterrence tactic, Israel has been harping on “Palestinian incitement.” That’s what’s responsible. In that regard, Israeli spokespeople, first and foremost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are like the corporate oil lobby denying the connection between global warming and human activity. They deny any connection between the uprising by desperate and angry individuals and the vicious rule that we have imposed on them. But the Israeli leaders do excel at demolishing more and more homes as a deterrent measure, which again and again fails to prove itself.