West Bank terrorism, the Israeli answer

Government cracks down on perpetrators of West Bank attacks while boosting settlements.

The house of the Abu Humaid family is seen after it was demolished by Israeli forces in al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah on December 15 (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
The house of the Abu Humaid family is seen after it was demolished by Israeli forces in al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah on December 15
In response to a series of West Bank attacks against settlers and soldiers, the Israeli government is pushing for unprecedented measures to punish perpetrators of such attacks while at the same time boosting Jewish communities, despite opposition from both the legal and security establishment.
In mid-December, two soldiers were killed and a third critically injured in a shooting at a bus stop near the Givat Asaf outpost, north of Jerusalem. Three days earlier, seven people were wounded in a drive-by shooting attack on a bus stop close by, at the settlement of Ofra, including a 30-weeks’ pregnant woman who was seriously injured. Her baby, named Amiad Yisrael, was delivered in an emergency operation, but died three days later.
While the security forces conducted a widespread manhunt in the Ramallah area for the Hamas-linked perpetrators, politicians were quick to initiate legislation they hope will deter future terrorist attacks.
The Knesset plenum voted in favor of a bill to expel terrorists’ families in its preliminary reading with a majority vote of 69 MKs, including lawmakers from the opposition Yisrael Beytenu and Yesh Atid parties. The bill will empower the OC Central Command to forcibly relocate the family of a Palestinian who committed a terror attack to elsewhere in Judea and Samaria.
Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) leader Naftali Bennett argued that the steps outlined in the bill have a proven deterrent effect and can save lives.
“Maintaining deterrence is the cornerstone of Israeli security as a means of saving lives and preserving law and order,” he said. “Terrorists no longer fear us. Jews are being murdered because carrying out terrorist attacks has become a lucrative business for Palestinians and judicial overreach is crippling the defense establishment.”
In the course of the voting, three Knesset members from the predominantly Arab Joint List were ejected from the plenum. MK Ahmed Tibi shouted at Jewish Home MK Motti Yogev, one of the sponsors of the bill, “You piece of garbage, this is a law for war criminals; you’re going to end up in The Hague.”
The bill passed its preliminary reading despite clear opposition from the judicial branch.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit maintained that the bill was unconstitutional in that the family of a gunman could not be punished without proving they intentionally helped the attacker. He warned that the legislation contradicted international law and could cause trouble for the Israeli government in international legal forums.
State Attorney Shai Nitzan argued that Israel can deter by other means.
“If we demolish everyone’s homes, that will deter. If we send everyone to jail, that will deter. But we mustn’t reach that point,” he said, “If Israel adheres to its moral, Jewish and legal principles, it will be possible both to fight terrorism effectively and retain a human image and Israel’s ideological and moral image.”
Nitzan noted that the High Court of Justice had ruled that a fundamental condition for removing someone from their home and town was that this person posed a danger and that his expulsion would remove that danger. He said that he hoped that the legislative proceedings would be stopped.
“Obviously, a person who doesn’t pose a danger must not be expelled only in order to deter others. This is a fundamental condition based on Israel’s obligations in keeping with Israeli and international law and, as noted, is also in keeping with our Jewish values.”
In addition to opposition from legal circles, senior security officials also criticized the government’s strategy.
The head of the Shin Bet, the Israel Security Agency, reportedly advised ministers that the bill permitting Israel to forcibly relocate the families of Palestinian terrorists from their homes to other parts of the West Bank could actually harm Israel’s security.
Nadav Argaman warned the security cabinet that rather than acting as a deterrent, the proposed legislation could further raise tensions, would be difficult to implement and would even damage the service’s ability to gather information.
Shabtai Shavit, a former Mossad head, said the government’s policy is to keep intensifying its might without employing any ideas that could bring quiet.
“Demolishing houses and expelling families is not recognized by international law. The fact is that the Attorney General is opposed. I believe that the prime minister will deliberate at length because he also doesn’t like these measures, which every time we use them, bring on us condemnation from any country in the world that is even mildly liberal.”
Opposition lawmakers challenged the government position that expelling the families of terrorists will act as a deterrence.
“Insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results,” Meretz party chair Tamar Zandberg said. “This government has failed, its security doctrine has collapsed, and yet all it has to offer us is another destructive law from the same racist and extreme school of collective punishment. This law is neither right nor wise. It’s time for sanity.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said that the bill to expel terrorists’ families conflicted with international humanitarian law. He said that the International Criminal Court in The Hague must launch an official investigation against Israel because it was “committing crimes against humanity.”
Ministers also voted in favor of a separate bill to legalize homes in some 70 West Bank outposts and neighborhoods that were built over the last 20 years without government approval, outside of the boundaries of recognized settlements.
Under the terms of the bill, settlers living in these locations – mostly small hilltop communities – will be entitled to the same municipal services that all Israeli citizens receive, including being connected to the water and electricity infrastructures.
There was also pressure from right-wing MKs and bereaved relatives of the victims of terror attacks for a more sweeping policy regarding the demolition of terrorists’ homes, amid criticism that the existing procedure is lengthy and often results in only the partial destruction of the dwelling of a convicted assailant.
“We are doing everything to fight these terrorists and demolish their homes. I am checking the procedures to see if something can be done with the legal restrictions,” Netanyahu told a gathering of his Likud Knesset faction.
The Palestinian Authority demanded that Israel stop the demolition of terrorists’ homes on the grounds that the policy causes agitation.
The policy of destroying terrorists’ homes has been criticized by human rights groups as a form of collective punishment, and some officials question its effectiveness as a deterrent measure.
And, in another move designed to deter would-be assailants, a joint committee comprised of members from the Knesset House Committee and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved a bill that would bar cutting one-third of the sentences meted out to terrorists who either committed murder or were accessories to murder.
It remains to be seen how much of the impending legislation will survive the inevitable legal challenges. One thing is certain, with elections looming in Israel, the prime minister, who only weeks ago also took over as defense minister, is keen to endorse any initiative that enables him to shore up his electoral base while at the same time giving him the appearance of looking tough in the war on terror.