Campaign demands an end to Israeli home demolitions countering collective punishment

PNN/ Bethlehem/

“It is normal to lose stuff in life but losing something like a home that you have lived in your entire life that is losing all memories, all the laughs, all the tears, the ups and downs.”

Malak Hanatsheh [Walid’s daughter], 12 years old

A group of Palestinian and international lawyers, activists and human rights defenders, are launching a campaign against Israeli’s Settler-colonial and apartheid regime systematic policy of collective punishment against family members of Palestinian freedom fighters. At the heart of this policy is punitive demolitions of family homes which leaves innocent civilians without their homes and in extreme economic distress, particularly given that they had already lost their primary breadwinners either because they were killed or imprisoned by the Israeli regime.

The group said in a statement that “In grave violation of International Law, including International Humanitarian Law (IV Geneva Convention), International Human Rights Law and International Customary Law, Israeli regime has engaged in collective punishment against Palestinians since the beginning of the military occupation in 1967. Central to this has been the Israeli regime systematic policy of home demolitions and psychological and economic warfare against the families of Palestinians accused of being engaged in resistance. This policy has intensified since 2015; particularly in the city of Jerusalem.”

“This is one of many forms of collective punishment which the Israeli regime deploys against the Palestinian people for their resistance. Other forms of collective punishment include revocation of permanent residency status of family members of political prisoners in Jerusalem, forcible transfer from their homes, refusal and revocation of close and distant relatives’ Israeli work permits, and prohibiting new construction on the site of demolished homes, as well as confiscating the properties themselves,” it added.

This is compounded by the legislative efforts of the Israeli Knesset to enact legislation mandating and demanding home demolitions and forcible displacement of all families of martyrs (i.e. Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces), or transfer of freedom fighters from their hometowns to other areas of the West Bank.

Moreover, this action has been confirmed by the Israeli High Court of Justice, which ordered that starting March 1st 2020, the family houses of Yazan Mghames and Walid Hanatsheh, two recently arrested political prisoners, can be demolished at any time. The family of another prisoner, Qassam Barghouthy, has received a military order for the house demolition and has not yet been confirmed by the Court. The three have allegedly been accused of carrying out attacks on Israeli targets near the illegal Israeli colony of ‘Dolev’.

“A family house is not just property: it is as sacred as the family. It gets demolished simply because of an arbitrary and inhumane military decision that comes under illogical and colonial pretexts geared towards quenching Israeli’s thirst for revenge,” the group said.

“These acts amount to “court-sanctioned revenge,” or more accurately are forms of collective punishment carried out against persons who themselves have not been convicted of any offence. This policy of home demolitions violates both the prohibition against the destruction and appropriation of property of protected persons in Humanitarian International Law and the absolute prohibition on collective punishment under International Customary Law. House demolition is also an infringement upon  people’s right to housing as stipulated in international human rights law and norms. Importantly, the UN Human Rights Committee has noted consistently, that the prohibition against collective punishment is non-derogable, even in states of emergency. Moreover, imposition of collective punishment constitutes a war crime,” statement cites.

Within the principles of international customary law and International Jurisprudence, third states are responsible for preventing ongoing violations of humanitarian law by investigating, prosecuting, withholding aid or recognition, and cooperating to end the grave breach, including through retaliatory measures against the violating states. Nevertheless, the international community’s opposition to the Israeli regime’s use of collective punishment has rarely risen above the level of verbal condemnation.  It is up to Palestinians and the Palestinian solidarity movement to pressure the international community and Israel to discontinue these violations.

The group called upon its allies to:

1. Raise awareness in both local and international media of Israel’s use of home demolitions as a form of collective punishment and forcible transfer, and to highlight this as a war crime. This can help prioritize the issue on the UN’s agenda.

2. Pressure the International Criminal Court (ICC) to add collective punishment to its list of prosecutable crimes. This would be a step toward ending Israel’s impunity and thus allowing for the prosecution of this violation of basic human rights.

3. In light of the above, it is thus imperative to assist victims in submitting their cases of collective punishment to the ICC section and other considered international bodies that are dedicated to facilitating the participation of victims.

4. Continue working towards entirely isolating the Israeli occupying regime, and towards advancing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as a cornerstone activist strategy geared towards placing economic and political pressure on the occupying state.