Terrorist House Demolition

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What Happened?

Last week, the IDF re-issued orders to partially demolish a terrorist’s home in Shuweika, a northern West Bank village. Twenty-three-year-old Ashraf Na’alowa is accused of killing coworkers Kim Levengrond Yehezkel (29) and Ziv Hajbi (35) at the Barkan Industrial Park near Ariel in September and has been on the run ever since. Security forces are conducting a manhunt and plan to destroy the basement and ground floor of Na’alowa’s family’s house.

Though abandoned in 2005 and reinstated in 2014, Israel’s current controversial policy is to demolish terrorists’ families’ houses. The legal adviser for Judea and Samaria, Col. Eyal Toledanoexplains that the “process is supervised by the highest levels of the Justice Ministry,” since most often “petitions were submitted to the High Court of Justice.” Terrorists’ families have the opportunity to petition the verdict, and, if turned down, demolition occurs within a few weeks or months.

House demolition is a contested issue, with some decrying the immorality of collective punishment and others thinking that terrorism is so demoralizing to a country that house demolition is not even sufficient to deter heinous terror attacks.

In this particular case, Ziv’s brother declared, “The whole home must be razed and the family must be expelled,” and Kim’s father said, “For every drop of our blood that is spilled, you (the Palestinians) will pay in land.” Kim and Ziv’s family and friends participated in a protest march, demanding the capture of and death penalty for Na’alowa.

In what Yediot Achronot calls an “unusual move,” forces will carry out the demolition before officially convicting the terrorist. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and IDF reportedly have “sufficient incriminating evidence against the fugitive.”

Why Does it Matter?

Is collective punishment a Jewish value? The Torah is ambiguous on collective punishment. On the one hand, punishing people who did not commit a crime seems antithetical to a theology within Judaism. Abraham asks God, “Would you kill the (tzaddik) innocent along with the (rasha) guilty?” Collective punishment, says Abraham, is outside the bounds of morality. Moses and Aaron make the same claim to God when He wants to destroy the Jewish people as a result of Korah’s rebellion. On the other hand,  as a result of Shechem’s treatment of Dina, Shimon and Levi destroy the entire city of Shechem, and the language of the Torah leaves it vague whether they should be applauded or not, and perhaps most significantly, the Torah calls for collective punishment when an entire city is an “ir hanidachat,” a wayward, idolatrous city.

Only Palestinian or Jewish terrorists? A few years ago, Israel’s high court of Justice ruled that the homes of the three murderers of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Kdeir would not be demolished on a technicality. Retired Supreme Court judge Elyakim Rubenstein noted that the main reason for the rejection of Abu Khdeir’s parents’ petition is “the considerable delay that occurred between the abominable act and the submission of the petition… the decision in this case does not exceed the limits of proportionality and is not tainted by unreasonableness,” but he believed that “the home demolition policy is valid for both Jewish and Arab assailants.”

Punishment or deterrent? If intended as a punishment, then jail time or capital punishment should suffice. Perhaps the family played a role in how the child was raised, but such an approach can lead to a “slippery slope.” Therefore, deterrence seems to be the main objective. If the terrorist does not mind losing his or her own life by pursuing such activities, he or she might be more concerned with his or her family’s well-being after the attack. This tactic can also provide an incentive for a family to prevent one of their own from carrying out an attack so as to avoid losing their home.

Israel in the world’s eyes: Israel is often the center of attention in world news. World opinion often plays a role in Israeli policy, and this situation is no different. After a suggestion that house demolition should be expanded to attempted terrorists (see “Diversity of Perspectives” below), Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned of “greater international criticism.” Similarly, Knesset Member Michal Rozin, who is against house demolition altogether, stated: “We must keep in mind the international repercussions for Israel’s status.”

Diversity of Perspectives within Israel

In 2015, three academics, two from Hebrew University and one from Northwestern University, conducted a study on the efficacy of house demolition in suicide terrorism deterrence. They concluded that “punitive house demolitions…leads to an immediate decrease in the number of suicide terrorists,” though the “effect dissipates over time and space.”

Yet there seems to be a close relationship between the demolition and deterring acts of terror, as terrorist acts are reduced by 12-13% as a result of this intervention. When asked privately if the decrease in terror attacks justified the practice of house demolition, the study’s authors diverged: Claude Berrebi maintained it can be used cautiously; Esteban Klor believed the objections to the policy are stronger than its effectiveness and that the government employs them to “placate the public”; Efraim Benmelech declined to comment.

So is the demolition policy immoral or insufficient?

Israeli organization B’Tselem believes the former, saying: “This policy constitutes collective punishment, which is prohibited and violates…international law,” calling it a “matter of basic morality: Punishing innocents for the sins of others is unconscionable.” Aside from the issue of morality, certain Israeli politicians object to the policy because they do not believe it is an effective deterrent. Knesset Member Michal Rozin of Meretz stated, “It’s painful and difficult to listen to the bereaved families, but destroying houses won’t stop terrorism or violence, but will only encourage more.”

On the other hand, many Israelis, including many families of terror victims, not only support this measure of punishment but believe it is not even sufficient for convicted terrorists. Ziv Hajbi’s mother cried, “My son was murdered in cold blood… The whole house should be demolished and (the terrorist’s) family should be expelled and receive no funds (from the Palestinian Authority).” Avi Dichter, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman, even calls for house demolition of attempted terrorists. He argues that these attempts are just as dangerous even if less “successful” in their missions.

Discussion Questions

  1. Assuming house demolition deters terrorism, what is the Jewish perspective on this act? As we noted above, the Torah provides ample arguments for both sides of the dispute. Ask the students to construct their approach to solving this moral dilemma and offer a third approach. For example, perhaps the collective deserves some punishment from a Torah perspective if the collective contributed to the sins of the individual.
  2. In September, the IDF and Justice Ministry ruled not to demolish the home of terrorist Abd al-Rahman Bani Fadel, who stabbed Adiel Kolman to death in March, due to evidence that he was mentally unstable. Kolman’s mother objected: “The terrorist was of a clear mind when he planned to murder a Jew.” Who do you think is right?
  3. One of the reasons why Jewish family homes are not destroyed when they commit terrorism is because it does not happen enough to warrant house demolition, and therefore serves as an unnecessary deterrent to something that rarely happens. Justice Yoram Danziger argued, “There’s no place for the artificial symmetry claimed by the petitioners to support their claim of discriminatory enforcement.” Do you agree or disagree? Should the policy be one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians, or one policy for everyone?

Practical Classroom Tips

  1. Provide analogies: Should Jewish community leaders give honors to family members who help support a man who refuses to give his wife a get (bill of divorce)? This is a question Rabbi Shlomo Brody asks.
  2. Have students write a letter from a terrorist’s family petitioning the Israeli government not to destroy their home. What points would they include? Then have them write a letter from a terror victim’s family to the Israeli government. What points would they include? (Alternatively, you can have students address letters directly from one family to the other.)
  3. Fishbowl: Ask four students to stand up at the front of the class. The rest of the class takes turns asking students questions on the topic (using the discussion questions above, and others), while the four students each have one minute to give their opinion on the question.

Further Reading

  1. The New Republic article by Yishai Schwartz that gives a full history and analysis of house demolition
  2. Op-ed for the Israel Democracy Institute by Attorney Tal Mimran

Engaging with Israel: Random but Important

  1. Last week, the Israeli-Ethiopian community celebrated Sigd, a holiday that takes place 50 days after Yom Kippur and marks the renewal of the covenant between the Jewish people, God and Torah. President Reuven Rivlin attended the mass prayer service in Jerusalem, where he spoke and stated: “Citizens of Israel will not be party to discrimination on the basis of skin color. We are brothers and sisters.”
  2. Israeli artist Itai Zalait placed a statue of Culture Minister Miri Regev in Tel Aviv’s Habimah Square, in which she is Snow White-like and standing opposite a mirror. The statue was considered a protest to the new Cultural Loyalty Law, which would eliminate or reduce cultural institutions’ budgets. Regev defended herself in a tweet addressing the statue, and ended with: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what are the ugliest injustices of all?”
  3. Find yourself wondering if the food in your refrigerator is still good? US-Israeli company Silo is developing technology to keep foods fresh for longer and track the food’s status.

Noam Weissman

Dr. Noam Weissman is the Senior Vice President of Education at Jerusalem U. Noam holds a doctorate in educational psychology from USC with a focus on curriculum design. Before joining Jerusalem U, he was the principal of Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, where he spent 9 years actively engaging and empowering students to find meaning in their Jewish learning.

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