Hadas Mizrahi, widow of murdered police officer Baruch Mizrahi, on Monday broke down sobbing at the High Court of Justice hearing on whether to demolish the family home of her husband’s alleged murderer.
She turned to the court, crying, “Look at me! I can’t go on. Enough. We are another family of victims here, more families will be harmed. Maybe this house demolition will be a deterrence. We cry out to the State of Israel.”
The hearing before a three-justice panel of Deputy Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, Justice Yoram Danziger, and Justice Uri Shoham heard a petition by the Hamoked human rights group on behalf of 12 members of suspect Ziad Awade’s family to block the demolition of their home.
The court said it would consider the two sides’ arguments and reach a decision soon, while the state committed not to perform the demolition until at least 12 hours after a final court order.
Hamoked slammed the pending demolition order as a blatant violation of international law. There is a debate whether house demolitions can be considered a military necessity under Article 53 of the Geneva Conventions in order to achieve deterrence or whether they are an illegal form of collective punishment under Article 33. Most countries do not view deterrent demolitions as valid, accepting only demolitions relating to a real-time battlefield situation.
Nevertheless, the hearing focused on Hamoked’s argument that the order contradicted the state’s own 2005 Shani Commission recommendations to cease house demolitions.
The commission had concluded that demolitions are ineffective and create no deterrence of future acts of terrorism, and halted the practice since 2005. However, the commission did leave a window open for reinstating demolitions if the situation radically changed.
The state claimed that the situation had indeed changed and that the demolition is necessary to quash a spike in terrorism in the West Bank since 2013. The state’s brief said there were 1,414 terrorist attacks from the West Bank in 2013 and more than 500 already in 2014, a marked jump from earlier years.
The state also recounted in specific detail eight terrorist attacks between March and June 2014, including three this month alone.
More specifically, the state said there had been a spike in kidnapping attempts over the last year, with seven attempts in the third quarter of 2013, eight in the fourth quarter of 2013, 12 in the first quarter of 2014, and 15 attempts in the last three months.
The state noted that the indictment against Awade describes much of the preparation for his attack, such as shooting practice, taking place in the house which the state wishes to demolish. The state also noted that Awade’s wife and son knew about his attack plans.
In its response to the Awade family’s request to stay the demolition, the state said it would demolish only the part of the structure belonging to Awade’s immediate family and would not demolish a second part where his extended family lives.
Hamoked said that the commission had not analyzed the issue from a statistical perspective, but concluded that sociologically and psychologically no deterrence was being achieved on the ground. The NGO also asked, if the commission reviewing hundreds of demolitions had concluded there was no deterrence, how could it now say that demolishing a single house would achieve deterrence? The NGO added that, even from a statistical perspective, there was no clarity; as the state did not give statistics of terrorist attacks from years prior to 2013 to perform a comparison, merely asking the court to take its word for it.
Moreover, Hamoked submitted an engineer’s opinion that the state’s idea of demolishing only the western side of the structure would endanger the physical integrity of the eastern side, leaving it unlivable.
The NGO also argued that the structure is not even owned by Awade’s immediate family, but by his brother, who it said was unconnected to the attack. The family’s lawyers have said 13 family members occupy the full structure.
Naor noted that the recommendations of a commission, even if state sponsored, do not abolish the state’s statutory powers (such as to demolish houses).