Jerusalem home demolitions declared a ‘war crime’


On the last day of 2014, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition to prevent the demolition of the homes of five Palestinians from East Jerusalem accused of carrying out attacks in the city.

Having exhausted all legal routes pursued by the Israeli human rights organisation HaMoked (Center for the Defence of the Individual), four homes are due for imminent demolition. One home was already destroyed in November and a decision is still to be made on a sixth home due to mitigating circumstances.

The 31 December ruling came just hours before the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas applied to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move that would make way for the Palestinian Authority to pursue a catalogue of war-crime charges against Israel.

But local and international human rights groups say the demolition policy is itself a war crime.

“These demolitions are taking place in an area that is under military occupation and is therefore governed by the Fourth Geneva Convention,” Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, told Equal Times.

“We’re talking about an act of collective punishment, which under all circumstances could qualify as a war crime. The issue is not whether it’s a deterrent or not. Even if it were, it would still qualify as collective punishment,” he added.

By all accounts, 2014 was a particularly brutal year for the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Close to 2,200 Palestinians were killed over 50 days in July and August during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, allegedly by two Hamas operatives.

In July, Palestinian teenager Mohammad Abu Khdeir was murdered in retaliation by three Israeli right-wing extremists in Jerusalem, triggering a chain of tit-for-tat violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel.

On 18 November, an attack on a synagogue in the West Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Nof left five Israelis dead.

As a result, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately ordered the demolition of the homes of the two assailants, and of other Palestinians held responsible for recent violent incidents.

All suspects were killed by authorities either immediately or shortly after the attacks took place.


Deterrent or blind punishment?

Nadia Abu Jamal, the 31-year-old wife of one of the synagogue attackers, has been fighting legal battles on several fronts ever since.

In addition to the demolition of the apartment where she lives with two young children and extended family, she was threatened with the revocation of her Jerusalem residency and her children’s health insurance.

“I’m not being allowed to continue with my life,” she said. “Why aren’t the killers of Muhammad Abu Khdeir punished like us?”

The Israeli government argues that the demolitions serve to deter future terror attacks, but the policy is only applied to Palestinians accused of attacking Israelis, and not the other way around.

The legal basis for the practice is Regulation 119 of the Defence (Emergency) Regulations of 1945, enacted during the British Mandate and incorporated into Israeli law.

Discontinued in 1998, the practice was resumed in October 2001, during the Second Intifada.

By the end of 2004, 4,182 innocent men, women and children were left homeless following home demolitions by the Israeli army.

A 2005 military commission of inquiry found no proof that the tactic constituted an effective deterrent against terrorism, and recommended discontinuation of the policy.

However, the demolitions resumed in June 2014 to put pressure on Hamas, which the Israeli government blamed for the kidnapping of the three Yeshiva students.

Ibrahim Hijazi, father of Muataz Hijazi, the man responsible for the attempted assassination of the far-right rabbi Yehuda Glick last October, has little faith in the Israeli courts.

Last Wednesday, the courts gave the Ministry of Defence an additional 15 days to determine whether his home in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Abu Tor should be demolished or not.

Muataz was killed by police on 29 October 2014 on the roof of the same building.

“Even if he was guilty, they should have proved it in court. Instead, they shot him 20 times,” says his father.

“The objective [of the demolitions] is to push us to evacuate Jerusalem. I am not the first and I won’t be the last,” says Hijazi.