In the wake of several terror attacks, Israel revives policy of demolishing perpetrators' homes
Israel says the policy may save lives by providing a disincentive to commit attacks
Palestinians say the demolitions are a counterproductive measure that will only make tensions worse
The home of Ghassan Abu Jamal has a beautiful view of Jabel Mukaber. It looks over a small valley with olive trees and grazing sheep.
It also stinks here, the distinctive raw sewage smell of what’s known locally as “skunk water,” sprayed by Israeli police as a riot-control measure. And when you walk down the road to the Abu Jamal family’s East Jerusalem home, you tread on the metal remains of tear gas canisters.
On Tuesday Ghassan Abu Jamal and his cousin Uday walked into a synagogue in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof. Armed with meat cleavers, they attacked the worshipers inside, hacking at them with the knives. They killed four rabbis and a police officer before they were shot dead at the scene.
Today Ghassan and Uday stare out at mourners from posters and flyers on the walls of the family home. Here they are considered “shaheed,” or martyrs, of Israel’s occupation.
His 70-year old father, Mohamed, was recovering from a heart operation when he saw the news of the synagogue attack on television. He immediately collapsed.
“I never thought my son would do something like this,” he tells us.
He sits with us at the mourners’ tent erected near the family home. His eyes are red from crying and he can’t stand for long stretches.
We ask Mohamed what he believes triggered the gruesome attack.
“Maybe it was everything,” he says. “We want peace. We want coexistence. But we don’t accept being pushed into a corner and treated like slaves.”
In the hours that followed the attack, the Abu Jamal family says 15 relatives were arrested, some badly beaten in the process. They show us photos of the family’s ransacked homes and Ghassan’s younger brother with a purple, swollen eye, blood streaming down his face.
Now, Ghassan’s home will be demolished. The family show us the demolition order. His wife is distraught and unable to talk to anyone. Her three children are being cared for by relatives.
But perhaps the hardest part: their bodies may never be returned to the family. Israel says no decision has been made, but authorities here fear a family funeral could become a flashpoint, drawing hundreds to hold the cousins up as heroes. Instead, police are considering burying the bodies in a municipal grave.
“It’s impossible. It’s madness. The situation will not calm down unless they deliver the bodies home and allow us to bury them here” Mohamed says. “When they kill Arabs the never demolish the house of Jew. We never hear of a Jewish home destroyed when they kill one of us.”
House demolitions, the possibility of denied family burials: Israel is reviving policies it used during the intifada in the hopes of deterring future attacks.
Between 2000 and 2005 more than 650 Palestinian homes were demolished, displacing roughly 4,000 people, according to Israeli rights organization B’Tselem. Critics say these policies are ineffective, even counter-productive. But Israel’s government insists that destroying homes may save lives.
“It is an extraordinary step, one of the tools in our tool box,” Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told CNN.
“A Palestinian terrorist, any terrorist, may not care about themselves. But maybe they care about their immediate loved ones and where they live. I’ve been in security discussions and our experts believe this policy could save lives.”
In the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, Enas Shalodi is one of those loved ones. Her son rammed his car into a crowd at a tram station, killing a woman and a 3-week-old baby. He was shot dead at the scene.
Now Shalodi picks through the rubble of what’s left of her home.
“It is just for punishing us. That’s what it is,” she tells us. “How can destroying this house stop an attack?”
On the day we visit, Israel’s public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, makes an unannounced visit to survey the destruction of Shalodi’s home.
Shalodi leans out over the remains of her son’s apartment wall to see Aharonovitch arrive. She watches without expression as riot police point up at the blown-out walls of the home.
The neighborhood bristles with tension. Riot police have blocked off the road and are checking residents’ IDs and bags. Police with rifles, stationed on rooftops, keep a watchful eye.
Aharonovitch won’t answer any of our questions and bodyguards block our approach. But he lets us film as he shakes hands with riot police and chats with them.
For a moment, he seems to veer towards some nearby residents. One of his entourage offers a “Salaamalaikum” as if to start a conversation with an older Palestinian resident leaning against a car. But the man turns his head and snubs the greeting.
Aharonovitch and his staff quickly turn and drive away to another part of the neighborhood.
Throughout the visit, Aharonovitch never speaks to Enas Shalodi. If he did, this is what he would hear: “Violence only creates more violence. Adding more pressure only creates a bigger explosion.”