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House demolition as collective punishment

21 August 2002

Early this morning Israeli troops placed explosives in and around a Palestinian home in the refugee camp of Khan Younis in the Gaza strip. One man was killed and six other persons were injured as the house collapsed on top of them.

This aggressive act by the Israeli army was the latest in a string of home demolitions carried out as a form of collective punishment: during the last month the Israeli army has demolished 24 Palestinian homes, either by bulldozers or by explosives with the purpose of punishing Palestinians who in some way or the other, according to the Israeli army, were involved or suspected of being involved in attacks against Israelis. The army's intended goal of this brutal policy is to deter future attacks threatening consequences to the families. On 4 August alone, nine houses were demolished in the West Bank.

The well-planned and carefully organised destruction or total demolition of private homes is one of the cruelest expressions of Israeli occupation policies aimed at repressing the Palestinian population. Ever since the beginning of the occupation in 1967 the Israeli army has used this means to punish and to deter attacks; close to 10.000 Palestinian homes have been demolished since then, leaving thousands of Palestinians homeless.

Behind the high number of Palestinian homes demolished and the Israeli army legitimising the measure as necessary to prevent terrorist attacks, lays the tragic fate of thousands of Palestinians made homeless and loosing everything they own. The demolition in itself is a traumatising and humiliating experience; personal belongings, documents and family pictures are lost forever in the rubble as explosives or bulldozers raze the house to the ground. Children in particular suffer while witnessing their homes being taken away from them at the same time experiencing the helplessness and inability of their parents to stop the Israeli army from destroying their home.

The reality after the demolition is homelessness; those who are not lucky to have relatives to house them are forced to live in tents.

Recently the Israeli army distributed leaflets in the West Bank warning the Palestinian citizen to stop providing any help or cooperation with the attackers in order to guarantee your safety, and the safety of your family and property . Since 12 August, the Israeli army has so far demolished six Palestinian homes proving that the threat is real. Twice it was carried out in the village of Dhahrriye, south of Hebron:

On 13 August 2002, the Israeli army demolished the family home of Mohammad Al-Batat who was involved in an attack in Beer Sheeva more than six moths ago. At around 12.30 at night Israeli troops arrived with a number of jeeps and surrounded the house. Nobody was at home when the army arrived and therefore there was no chance to save any of their belongings before their home was exploded with dynamite. What can I say? We have lost everything we had. My father built the house with his own hands more than 30 years ago and I lived all my life in that house. Now all the beautiful memories from our home are gone. There is no hope now. This is truly an act of terrorism , Mohammad's brother said after the house was leveled to the ground.

The following day, the Israeli army returned to Dhahriyye to punish the family of Khaled Al-Tall who was involved in the same attack. The Israeli army demolished their house with bulldozers. Khaled's brother said: "All my life I lived in that house. When the Israeli army demolished the house, they also demolished my childhood. All this suffering is part of our struggle against the occupation and towards freedom. At the same time as we are being collectively punished, all Palestinians collectively take part in the suffering the Israeli occupation brings upon us. We will not leave our land. We will start to build a new house on the same spot as the one they destroyed."

This policy of demolishing homes of Palestinians for acts they have not committed is a clear method of collective punishment and is as such in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention for Protection of Civilians in Times of War. According to article 33 of the Convention no protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited. Further, the demolition of civilian homes is one of the acts considered a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and as such is to be considered a war crime, article 53 prohibits any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons&except where such destruction is rendered necessary by military operations. The UN Committee against torture has concluded that house demolitions may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in breach of the UN Convention against Torture.

This policy has been universally condemned by international governments as well as human rights organizations, without having any effect on the Israeli government s continued execution of these illegal actions. Instead, on 8 August this year, the Israeli High Court of Justice gave its consent to continue demolishing homes of terrorists without prior warning or a chance to appeal to the court.

The demolition of homes of innocent civilians is only one of many Israeli policies that undermine any peaceful way out of the current crisis. Peace cannot be achieved through violence and destruction.

For more information contact The Palestine Monitor

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