Israel Palestine Yumna Patel

Israel’s Punitive Home Demolition Policy, Explained

The Israeli military has admitted its policy of punitive demolitions does not work as a deterrent measure, and human rights groups have declared the policy violates international law. So, why does Israel continue doing it?
Two Palestinian men look at a demolition site in Gaza. Photo from Pixabay by Hosyn Salah from May 22, 2023.

By Yumna Patel / Mondoweiss

In the early morning hours of Thursday, June 8, a large convoy of Israeli military vehicles invaded downtown Ramallah, the central West Bank city and beating heart of the Palestinian Authority, in order to demolish the home of an accused Palestinian attacker. 

The raid lasted for at least six hours. It sparked fierce confrontations between armed Israeli soldiers and local Palestinian residents, who threw stones and Molotov cocktails toward the heavily armed military fleet. At least six Palestinians were injured by live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets, and tear gas. 

The massive raid, which reportedly consisted of more than 100 military vehicles and hundreds of Israeli troops, culminated in the destruction of the family home of Islam Froukh, 26, who is accused of carrying out two bus stop bombings in Jerusalem last November that killed two Israeli settlers, including a 16-year-old boy. 

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Video footage taken around the scene of the Froukh family home show Israeli forces cordoning off the area before rigging the apartment with explosives and detonating them, fully destroying the apartment, which sits on the first floor of a multi-story building. 

Naturally, the massive raid, gunfire, and explosions terrorized thousands of Palestinian residents in the surrounding area. It was also a sobering reminder that even in the heart of PA-controlled areas of the West Bank, Israel’s occupation still reigns supreme. Just miles away from the homes and offices of top Palestinian officials and leaders, Israeli army forces raided the city unperturbed and demolished the family home of a man it had already imprisoned. 

In addition to questions surrounding why the Israeli military can raid Palestinian cities and blow up homes there (you can find the answer to that here), the raid has triggered one major recurring question: 

Why does Israel destroy the homes of accused Palestinian attackers and their families?

In short, it’s a matter of policy. 

Israel views it as a “deterrent measure” against future “terror attacks.” Rights groups say it amounts to collective punishment and is a cruel and inhuman policy used to target a civilian population living under military occupation. 

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has said the policy is “by definition, meant to harm people who have done nothing wrong and are suspected of no wrongdoing, but are related to Palestinians who attacked or attempted to attack Israeli civilians or security forces.”

Israel has been employing punitive home demolitions against Palestinians since it formally occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. The state employs a British Mandate-era law, Regulation 119 of the Defense Regulations (1945), which gives “sweeping permission to forfeit, seal off and destroy property of inhabitants whom the military commander suspects of committing violence, regardless of whether they are the property owners or not,” according to Al-Haq. 

The Israeli High Court of Justice, or the Supreme Court, ruled in 2005 that home demolitions would no longer be subject to a hearing or judicial review, “effectively rubber-stamping the unlawful extrajudicial decisions of the military commander.”

Essentially, any Palestinian who carries out an attack, or is accused of carrying out an attack, against Israelis, be it soldiers or settlers in the West Bank, or Israelis inside the Green Line, is subject to having their home demolished by the state. There are no court hearings where the family can argue against the demolition, nor is the state required to present evidence. 

While families are allowed to appeal a demolition once it’s been ordered, B’Tsleem says Israel’s Supreme Court views such petitions as “mere formalities – a technicality intended to create a semblance of upholding the owners’ right to plead their case.” 

“Over the years, scores of petitions against house demolition orders have been brought before the HCJ. The petitions argued against the use of this measure as a matter of principle, against the ways in which the procedure is carried out, and made arguments relating to specific cases. Yet the court denied these petitions wholesale, with the exception of rare cases and several minority opinions,” the rights group says. 

Punitive demolitions can happen in many ways: via bulldozers, or as is becoming increasingly common, through explosives, as we saw on Thursday. In many cases, Israel frequently seals off the homes of accused attackers even before the homes are demolished to ensure the family cannot continue to live there. 

While the policy focuses on Palestinians in the West Bank (and Gaza until Israel’s “disengagement” in 2005), it is also applied to Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem and inside Israel. 

Over the years, Israel has destroyed hundreds of Palestinian homes under the policy. Though the army briefly put a hold on the practice between 2009-2014 (more on that, later), it has been in full swing since. 

What is particularly cruel, rights groups say, is that in almost all cases of punitive home demolitions, the alleged Palestinian attacker has already been killed or imprisoned by Israel. Demolishing their home, or their family’s home, is just an added layer of punishment. 

In the case of Froukh, whose family’s home was demolished on Thursday, the 26-year-old has already been in Israeli prison for months. According to Israeli media, Froukh was a resident of the Jerusalem-area town of Kufr Aqab, but allegedly “lived much of the time” in his family’s home in Ramallah. 

Following Israel’s indictment of Froukh in December, Israeli forces raided his home in Kufr Aqab and his family’s home in Ramallah to map the residences out for demolition, the Times of Israel reported. For reasons unidentified by the media, Israel chose to demolish Froukh’s family home in Ramallah, notifying the family of the state’s demolition plans in February. 

Froukh’s family appealed the demolition order to the Israeli Supreme Court, but as is the case in most punitive demolitions, the family’s appeal was denied, and the army was given the green light to blow up their home. 

According to Wafa News Agency, Froukh’s parents and four sisters who lived in the apartment have now been made homeless. 

Is the policy effective at “deterring” attacks?

No, and even the Israeli army itself agrees. 

The primary reason given by Israel as to why it demolishes the homes of alleged Palestinian attackers, even if the person no longer lives in the home, is to “deter” other Palestinians from carrying out attacks out of fear that their families will suffer and their homes will be demolished. 

But as history has proven, despite decades of the policy and hundreds of homes being destroyed, such attacks have not stopped. Why? In short, because Israel’s military occupation and cruel and inhuman treatment of millions of Palestinians living under its control, has not stopped. 

Even the state itself has failed to prove that the policy works. In fact, military officials have actually proved the contrary.

In 2005, an Israeli military committee called the efficacy of the policy as a deterrent into question, saying that by “engendering hate it caused more damage than good,” B’Tselem noted in a 2017 report on the policy. 

A review of the committee’s findings went on to say that the policy “pushes the limits of the law.” That same year, Israel’s Defense Minister at the time adopted the committee’s recommendations to stop the policy. For nearly ten years, save one instance in East Jerusalem in 2009, punitive home demolitions were effectively stopped. 

But in 2014, following the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli settlers, the policy was unilaterally put in place again. At the time, B’Tselem notes, the state did not explain how the resumption of punitive demolitions could be reconciled with the 2005 military committee recommendations that found the policy to be ineffective and detrimental. 

Since then, dozens of homes of accused Palestinian attackers and their families have been destroyed. In some cases, like the case of Islam Froukh, the family’s home is destroyed even before a conviction against the alleged assailant is handed down. 

What does international law say?

That punitive home demolitions are illegal, plain and simple. 

Despite the legalization of the policy by Israel’s courts, the policy of punitive home demolitions clearly violates international law. 

Article 33 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention states: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” It adds: “Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”

Under international law, Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation would fall under the category of protected persons. 

As noted by Human Rights Watch, international humanitarian law, including the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibits collective punishment, “including deliberately harming the relatives of those accused of committing crimes, in all circumstances.”

HRW added that “courts around the world have treated collective punishment as a war crime.” 

In addition to violating international laws and norms regarding protected persons and collective punishment, Al-Haq says the policy of punitive home demolitions of innocent people who have not been accused or convicted of committing a crime further violates the rights of said individuals to due process guarantees. 

“Proper administration of justice includes the right of equality before courts and tribunals and the right to a fair hearing in an independent, competent and impartial tribunal established by law,” Al Haq notes. “The accused enjoys the benefit of doubt and ‘no guilt can be presumed until the charge has been proved beyond reasonable doubt’. Administrative sanctions against individuals for the suspected acts of violence committed by others therefore violate basic principles of justice where no one may be punished for the crime of another.”

Furthermore, Al-Haq says that the British Mandate-era law upon which Israel bases the policy is not applicable given that Article 64 of the Fourth Geneva Convention “requires the Occupying Power to alter laws in the occupied territory that do not meet the minimum humanitarian guarantees advanced in the Geneva Conventions.”

On this basis, Al-Haq says, Israel must repeal the British Regulation 119 of the Defense Regulations (1945) “because its provisions are inconsistent with fundamental guarantees of justice, the prohibition on collective penalties, and the protection of civilian property afforded by the Geneva Conventions.”

Even Britain itself has argued that Regulation 119 was already repealed under the Palestine (Revocations) Order-in-Council of 1948, and as such no longer applies to Palestinians living under Israeli control. 

So, why does Israel maintain this policy?

If the Israeli military itself has previously said the policy of punitive demolitions does not work as a deterrent measure, and countless human rights groups have clearly outlined that the policy violated international law, why does Israel keep doing it?

Even if the policy does not deter attacks as it supposedly intends, it does succeed in striking fear and terror into Palestinian communities living under Israeli control. At the end of the day, such practices allow Israel to exert another form of control over the civilian population that it occupies. 

Human Rights Watch says: “various types of collective punishment, such as punitive home demolitions and sweeping movement restrictions against entire areas or communities based on the actions of a few people, are among the policies that Israeli authorities have relied on to systematically oppress Palestinians.”

In addition to the elements of oppression and control, one of the chief reasons why Israel continues such policies despite widespread international condemnation is simply because it can. 

As is the case with other policies employed by Israel against Palestinians – home demolitions, land confiscation, restrictions on freedom of movement, limiting access to resources, criminalizing civil society groups and NGOs, forcible deportation and expulsion – that fly in the face of international law, Israel has never truly been held accountable, save for the occasional slap on the wrist. 

Even in the wake of increased statements by Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights groups that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid, one of the gravest violations of international law, there has been no response from the international community in the form of sanctions or progress on criminal investigations at the ICC. 

With no real accountability on the international stage and continued support, funding, and partnerships by the likes of the US and the EU, Israel has been allowed to do what it wants, no matter how many laws it violates. 

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Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine. She is also the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss. Read more from this author at the link below.

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