A home for a home


Israel’s High Court of Justice has backed the government’s policy of demolishing the family homes of Palestinians accused of perpetrating acts Israel defines as terrorism while not likewise punishing the families of Israeli perpetrators.

Last week’s ruling from the court rejected a petition from the family of Mohamed Abu Khudair that the Israelis who killed their son have their family homes demolished, a standard form of retribution when a Palestinian attacks Israelis.

In July 2014, Abu Khudair was kidnapped from his home in East Jerusalem by three Israelis who took him to a forest and bludgeoned him, then went on to burn the 16-year-old alive in an act of barbarism that shocked the world.

The ringleader of the attack said he wanted to avenge the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank whose bodies were found days before Abu Khudair was killed.

The reason stated by the judge for rejecting the petition by the family of Abu Khudair was that too much time had elapsed since the crime was committed. It had been two years. It should be noted that Abu Khudair’s parents had to wait until the three Israelis were convicted of killing their son – a process that took more than two years – before they could petition for the demolitions.

At any rate, while rejecting the Abu Khudair petition, the court reaffirmed the state’s right to demolish the homes of Palestinians accused of attacks, reinforcing a glaring double standard.

Israeli authorities claimed that Palestinian and Israeli “terrorists” should be treated differently because Palestinians commit more attacks than Jews. This reasoning obviously overlooks the fact that the overwhelming majority of conflict-related deaths have been Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli occupation forces, slayings that are carried out with systematic impunity.

The Israeli government opposed the Abu Khudairs’ petition, arguing that home demolitions were necessary to deter Palestinian attacks, which supposedly require “special forms of deterrence”. The court accepted the government’s argument, ruling that demolishing a Palestinian’s home functions as deterrence, whereas demolishing the home of an Israeli would be punishment.

In ruling against the Abu Khudair petition, one of the judges acknowledged that Regulation 119 – the Israeli military decree that permits the demolition of an alleged attacker’s home – applies to both Palestinians and Israeli Jews. But Regulation 119 has never been used against an Israeli perpetrator.

The Israeli court’s claim that the demolitions deter is not based on any evidence. In 2005, a military committee concluded that punitive demolitions achieved the opposite of deterrence, leading to the suspension of the practice. The committee concluded that “the damage caused by demolitions outweighs their benefits, since whatever discouragement they cause is significantly eclipsed by the level of hate and fury they create”.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved to reintroduce the practice in 2014, the high court supported his decision, citing the pretext of deterrence.

However, almost every rights organization under the sun denounces the demolition of Palestinian homes as collective punishment, a war crime under international law, particularly the Geneva Conventions.

The Israeli High Court of Justice maintains that the policy of home demolitions applies equally to both Israelis and Palestinians. Abu Khudair’s case proves otherwise. Home demolitions are never carried out against the relatives of Israelis who perpetrate violence against Palestinians. And Palestinians targeted by these sorts of revenge demolitions say that they only stiffen their resolve in the face of Israel’s occupation.

There can be no doubt that the Israeli courts are more interested in advancing the state’s discriminatory policies towards Palestinians than they are in delivering justice and maintaining peace.