Israel is to renew its controversial policy – discontinued in 2005 – of destroying the homes of terrorists as a deterrent measure, as Jerusalem continues ratcheting up steps it hopes will place pressure on Hamas and lead to the return of the three kidnapped teens, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah.
The decision came at a recent security cabinet meeting, and will be implemented – subject to court approval – against the home of Ziyad Awwad, the terrorist suspect arrested last month with his son, Azzadin Ziad Hassan, for the Passover-eve murder near Kiryat Arba of Baruch Mizrachi and the wounding of his wife and one of their children.
The sources said that the government intends to increasingly ask the courts to allow the punitive house demolitions, which they said have proven to be successful in the past.
According to B’Tselem, Israel demolished some 666 houses as punishment for terrorist attacks during the years of the second intifada, from 2001 until the practice was discontinued in February 2005.
In February 2005, the Defense Ministry – basing itself on a committee led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Udi Shani, and also included Hebrew University Law School dean Yuval Shany and Eli Amir – said it was not having an effective deterrent effect and was instead stirring up more hatred. The commission also said the demolitions were “borderline” from an international law perspective. Israel was routinely slammed by the international community for the practice.
A statement by the ministry at the time said, however, that the policy would be reinstated if “there were an extreme change in circumstances.”
One government official explained the decision to renew the practice by saying Israel “hopes to level the playing field” and provide economic deterrents to counteract the economic inducements the PA has put into place for those carrying out terrorist acts.
“On the Palestinian side you have a whole package of incentives to carry out terrorist attacks, such as if we arrest the terrorist, their families get a generous allowance from the PA.” the official said.
He added that this created an absurdity whereby as much as PA President Mahmoud Abbas may have condemned the recent kidnappings of the three teens, if their kidnappers are imprisoned their families will get a generous benefit package form the Palestinian Authority.
“There is a whole system of economic support for terrorism,” he said. ”We know that a house that is demolished can be rebuilt, but this levels the playing field somewhat.”
This is one of a series of steps the government has adopted over the last 10 days in an effort to place pressure on Hamas. A week ago the security cabinet announced that it was going to worsen the conditions in Israeli jails for Hamas prisoners, as a way of placing pressure on the organization’s leadership.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made reference to this at the Likud Beytenu faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday, saying that he had taken steps against terrorists in Israeli jails. He said the the visiting hours of the prisoners were cut to the minimum required by international conventions.
Responding to a question from Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon about Israeli prisons being “summer camps,” Netanyahu said the terrorists’ cellphone usage would be cut and they would not be permitted to watch the World Cup.
Another idea that is being considered – but has not yet been adopted – is to deport Hamas leaders from the West bank to Gaza.
The Justice Ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement saying that “the attorney-general presented his opinion before the political leaders that there is no legal obstacle to implementing this step [demolitions].”
It added that, “this position is based on the decision of the Supreme Court” and that the attorney-general “presented before the political leaders the full range of factors relating to the issue.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni declined to comment.
Hebrew University Prof. Guy Harpaz responded that while house demolitions were legal in Israel, as long as they were proportionate, they were a “grave violation” of international law and, in certain circumstances, could even constitute a war crime.”
Harpaz added he believes the measure is being taken to “camouflage” the government’s responsibility for releasing the man who murdered Mizrahi as part of the Schalit deal.
Diplomatic sources, meanwhile, said that since the IDF began Operation Brother’s Keeper 10-days ago in search of the three kidnapped teens, it has arrested 361 people, including 250 Hamas activists.
Among those arrested were 50 terrorists – 23 of whom were serving life sentences – who were released in the 2011 swap for Gilad Shalit. Their arrests, the officials said, were in accordance with the conditions of their release: namely, that they would be rearrested and serve the remainder of their sentences if evidence emerged that they had returned to terrorist activity.
The officials said that Hamas was responsible for the murder of Mizrachi, just as it is responsible for the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens.
“The international community needs to demand that Abbas end his unity pact with Hamas. If he does not remove them from the government, they will remove him and take over in the West bank,” the sources said.
In addition to the arrests, the IDF – according to the sources – has searched 1,701 homes, closed 65 Hamas institutions, and taken steps targeting Hamas’s financing.