MKs debate effectiveness of demolishing terrorists' homes

"Destruction of the house is a tool for hatred and will be used as an inspiration for the next terrorist who follows," opined one Sur Bahir resident.

bulldozer pigua 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
bulldozer pigua 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Less than a week after the deadly bulldozer attack on Jerusalem's Jaffa Road, questions of housing demolition, police performance and certification of heavy machinery operators rose to the forefront of an often emotionally-charged Knesset session. "Destruction of the house is a tool for hatred and will be used as an inspiration for the next terrorist who follows," argued Hassan Abu Asli, a Sur Bahir resident and longtime Jerusalem municipality worker, against calls by MKs and the government to hasten the destruction of terrorist Husan Taysir Dwayat's family's house. In response to a request by committee chairman Ophir Paz-Pines to clarify the current policy regarding punitive home demolitions, Assistant State's Attorney Shai Nitzan explained that according to law, it is permissible to destroy a terrorist's house - and that the decision to do so was dependent, in the case of Jerusalem, on getting a green light from OC Home Front Command as the military commander of the sector. Three years ago, he said, then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz had accepted the recommendations of then-chief-of-general-staff Moshe Ya'alon to put an end to the policy of punitive housing demolitions, "the reason was not one of legality." "During the same period, there was a reduction in terror attacks and there was international criticism, as well as claims about the level of effectiveness." The decision was made in light of an internal IDF report by Gen. (res.) Udi Shani. Debate raged in the committee as to whether the report, which is largely classified and inaccessible to civilians, said that housing demolition was ineffective or "could be" counterproductive. In the course of the hearing, a number of MKs sounded their opinions on housing demolitions, with MK Yohanan Plessner (Kadima), Estherina Tartman and Yitzhak Aharonovich (Israel Beiteinu) and Haim Amsalem (Shas) speaking out in favor of the policy. MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz) said that if it could be proved that housing demolition was an effective tool against terror, he too would not oppose it. Following the hearing, Beilin requested that the IDF release the Shani Report to settle once and for all the questions regarding Shani's conclusions. "We must seek to find the balance and to separate between tools used against terrorists and collective punishment of innocent people," argued committee chairman MK Ophir Paz-Pines. The hearing began with overview of the incident from Zion Subdistrict Chief Asst.-Cmdr. Bruno Stein, who said that the entire incident had lasted around 20 minutes and that the scene of the incident was 500 meters long. "The police officers didn't know if this was a car crash or a person who went crazy," said Stein. MK Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) questioned Stein as to whether police were looking into the possibility that the motive for the attack could have been something other than terrorism, a question echoed by Abu Asli, who said that he had known the terrorist's grandfather, and that he had suffered from random attacks "of insanity, when he would hit people in the street". Regarding Dwayat's personal history, Paz-Pines also raised the issue of how a man who had a prior criminal record - including assault and drug offenses - could have been employed to handle such potentially dangerous machinery. He promised that one of the lessons taken from the attack will be to examine the extent of an employer's right to demand a would-be employee's criminal record prior to their employment. But on this topic as well, the battle lines within the Knesset have already begun to form, with MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) calling out in response that such a right on the part of employers would constitute a serious infringement on the rights of people who had already fulfilled their sentences and been punished for their crimes.