Demolitions are damaging

Editorial

Haaretz

Adar1 11, 5765

Following years of systematic demolition of Palestinian homes, when it became difficult to distinguish between a policy of deterrence and one of punishment or vengeance, the chief of staff decided a few months ago to form a committee to examine the question of whether house demolitions are in fact an effective security measure.

Not surprisingly, it turned out that even a committee on behalf of the Israel Defense Forces came to the same conclusion that had previously been the critics' alone - that home demolitions are more damaging than beneficial. The deterrence, says the committee in its findings, is not equal to the hatred that the harsh measure evokes among the Palestinians.

The government of Israel wasn't the inventor of the policy of punishment by means of house demolitions. The policy was brought to the region by the British government during the Mandate period. The British demolished hundreds of Arab homes in Palestine in suppressing the revolt, and the Tel Jaffa neighborhood is historical testimony to a British military operation in response to firing from Jaffa homes at British ships anchored in the port. As is well known, the policy did not help to consolidate British rule in the region.

The very fact of the committee's establishment, with the intifada raging, can be seen as further sobering up from the illusion that exercising ever-increasing force against the Palestinian population will put an end to the acts of hostility and resistance to the Israeli occupation.

As the intifada turned more harsh and violent, the IDF sought more belligerent and deterring responses. While in the beginning only the homes of those involved directly in terror were demolished, in an effort to influence suicide bombers to spare their families the punishment, all restraint seemed to disappear as time went by.

Just 270 of the numerous homes that were demolished from 2002 through to last summer were homes of Palestinians involved in terror. All the remaining demolition operations, carried out primarily in the Gaza Strip, came under the policy of clearing areas and opening up better access routes for tanks, or in response to the firing of Qassam rockets or the planting of roadside bombs - collective punishment by means of razing an unknown number of residences. Estimates speak of thousands.

Home demolitions en masse in the Gaza Strip went ahead in an unmonitored manner, often testifying to the lack of control over events in the field at the senior command level. One of the reasons behind the chief of staff's decision to establish the committee was the sense that junior commanders were not always submitting accurate reports on the scale of the demolitions. Sometimes, the IDF command learned of the dimensions of the destruction only from journalists' questions and reports from international aid agencies.

The demolition policy was evidence of - among other things - helplessness, and the inability to quell the intifada by military means.

The findings of the committee must cause the IDF and the government to rethink matters - not only retroactively, but with a view to the future, too. The conclusion that the environmental destruction caused by the IDF to an innocent population does not add to Israel's security, but only increases hostility and etches it in the conscience of the people must be a guiding light for the next chief of staff - and for those that follow.

Under a future settlement that will include the rebuilding of the territories, there is place for Israel to offer compensation to Palestinian civilians whose homes were destroyed during the course of the army's operations.