Amid its latest bid to end the threat that Hamas and its affiliates pose to Israeli civilians, Israel has resumed a long-dormant policy of demolishing the homes of militants’ family members as a method of deterrence, one that has drawn widespread international condemnation in the past.
Nine years ago, the Israeli Defense Forces pushed to end the practice of bulldozing houses where family members related to members of Hamas and other Palestinian groups. There was no evidence that the destruction, the IDF said, had been having the desired effect. The Defense Ministry commission that recommended the shift in policy also noted that the destruction was “borderline” in terms of international law, but left the window open for a resumption if “there were an extreme change in circumstances.”
Last month, amid the search for three kidnapped Israeli teens, the Israeli government determined that such a change had at some point occurred, voting in a cabinet meeting to lift the ban. Israel, however, believes that the policy of home destruction is one that will pay off in the end. “The defense community, the government and intelligence communities all believe that using demolitions can serve as a deterrent,” an anonymous senior Israeli government official told the Washington Post. “It levels the playing field.”
The first target of the renewed policy: the house where Ziyad Awwad and his son, Azzadin Ziad Hassan, lived. The two were indicted for the murder of Baruch Mizrachi and the wounding of the Jewish Israeli’s wife and one of their children on the eve of Passover this year. According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the Awwad house was “currently home to two families: a total of 13 individuals, including eight children.”
Though Awwad petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice to stop the demolition, Judge Miriam Naor rejected the plea on July 1, determining that the rise in attacks in the West Bank and the discovery of the three teen’s bodies were enough to allow the destruction to resume. Naor also noted that despite the fact that Awwad had not been convicted, Israeli law still allowed the demolitions to occur, it was only the IDF’s policies that had changed.
Since then, the IDF has increased the tempo of its deconstruction projects. The houses of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aysha, two Hamas-linked operatives suspected of killing the three Israeli youth, have also been demolished. Rather than bulldozing the Abu Aysha home, IDF forces blew it up, using explosives to destroy the structure after tossing furniture onto the street and smashing the stairs and sinks with a sledgehammer.
Marwan Qawasmeh’s home was also destroyed at the beginning of the month. Now other members of his family are facing similar fates. Last week, the IDF told Qawasmeh’s father, Said, that he had 48 hours to evacuate his two-story house. “I built this house, and I own it,” the elder Qawasameh lamented to the Washington Post, as his family’s personal effects were strewn in boxes and bags outside the now empty home. “Why do they want to punish me?”
“This is a country that tells the world it wants peace?” Amer’s uncle Mohammed asked Reuters after the destruction of the Abu Aysha house had been completed. “What they’ve done here is absolutely barbaric. Look at the young boys here! Do you think they’ll grow up wanting peace, or full of hate and revenge from what they see?” As many as twenty people had been living in the house before its destruction.
The practice also continues to be one-sided against Palestinians, leaving the homes of Israelis suspected of terrorism standing. Earlier this month, three Jewish extremists confessed to the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, in a crime that the Defense Ministry has determined constitutes a terrorist act. Though like the suspected killers of the Israeli teens, the Jewish extremists have not been convicted of their crime, the homes of the suspects in the latter case remain standing.
So far, the resumption of demolitions has yet to lessen the number of rockets Hamas and other groups are firing from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Nor has the now week-old ground invasion of Gaza, which was launched to destroy the network of tunnels Hamas has constructed into Israel itself. So far in the most recent iteration of the war, more than 600 Palestinians have died, according to the United Nations, as have 30 Israeli citizens.