Drab West Bank home could be first to fall as Israel revives demolition policy

The Israeli army gave notice it plans to destroy a building that houses an extended family in which one brother is accused of murder. The policy had fallen into disuse because it was not seen as an effective deterrent.

By , Correspondent

A drab two-story house in this town could become the first casualty of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to revive the controversial practice of demolishing the homes of Palestinian militants, a form of collective punishment. 

The house was formerly occupied by Ziyad Awad, a Hamas operative whom Israel has arrested over the Apr. 14 killing of an Israeli police officer. On Tuesday, the Israeli army gave notice to relatives of Mr. Awad that it planned to ''confiscate and destroy'' the building where the murder suspect lived with his wife and five children. The targeted structure also houses, in a separate apartment, Awad's brother, Mohammed, and his wife and their six children as well as the brothers' mother.

Under Israeli law, the family has the right to contest the demolition notice. HaMoked, an Israeli human rights group representing the Awads, has filed an appeal to the army. If, as expected, this is unsuccessful, the family has 48 hours to petition Israel's Supreme Court. Dalia Kerstein, executive director of HaMoked, says the court has never completely cancelled a demolition. In some cases it has ruled that only part of the targeted house can be destroyed or that the house be sealed so that it cannot be inhabited, she says.

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Mr. Netanyahu frames the impending demolition as an expansion of an antiterrorism drive in the wake of the high-profile kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank earlier this month. Israel says Hamas, a militant group that recently joined a unity Palestinian government, is behind the kidnapping. 

While Ziyad Awad isn't implicated in the kidnapping, his arrest has drawn additional attention in Israel because of his past: He's a convicted murderer of Palestinians he viewed as collaborators with Israel. He was released from jail in 2011 under a prisoner swap for the release of Sgt. Gilad Shalit.

On Thursday, only a hot plate and a mirror were still in Ziyad Awad's apartment in Idna, a town near Hebron with a population of about 25,000 Palestinians. The family had moved out all the furniture and even removed the windows, anticipating the army bulldozer. Mohammed Awad, a carpenter, said he, not his brother, owns the building. ''If they destroy my house they will destroy me and my family,'' he says.

Punishing a brother

According to documents shown to the Monitor, Mohammed Awad is the legal owner of the house and rented an apartment to his brother, Ziyad Awad. The Israeli demolition order in Arabic does not name Ziyad Awad as owner of the house, but states that he lives there.

''You shouldn't punish a brother for what his brother did. I stay away from violence, I've never been arrested,'' Mohammed Awad says. ''If it turns out that Ziyad did this killing, I will feel disappointment. I'm not part of it. I'm against killing.''

Israel's B'Tselem human rights group says demolitions of relatives' houses amount to ''making the harming of innocents official state policy.'' Some leading Israeli commentators accuse Netanyahu of using the issue to project toughness and silence far-right critics, something his spokesman denies.

During the second Palestinian Intifada uprising in 2001-05, Israel's army demolished 664 houses as punishment, according to B'Tselem. But the policy fell into disuse after the army concluded that it wasn't an effective deterrent. Since then, Israel has only carried out one such demolition, after a Palestinian attack on civilians in Jerusalem in 2009.

''They were stopped because the system reached the conclusion they are not effective and I doubt they provide deterrence,'' says Gadi Zohar, a retired brigadier general and former head of the military administration in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.''It doesn't bring the results. It increases hatred.''

Deterrence factor

Now, Israel says demolitions are necessary to deter future attacks. ''On the Palestinian side there are all sorts of incentives that support acts of terrorism,'' says Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu. He says that the Palestinian Authority gives generous payments to families of people who are in jail for committing attacks.

''There is a financial incentive to be involved in violence when you know that your family will be set for life. The social incentive is that people who carry out attacks are viewed as heros. Demolition can make it a more even playing field, dis-incentivize attacks and provide deterrence.''

According to the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence agency, Ziyad Awad shot and killed Israeli police officer Baruch Mizrachi and wounded his wife and child near Hebron on April 14. The Shin Bet said that Ziyad Awad's teenage son, Izzedin, who is also in custody, knew in advance of the killing and was told by his father that ''according to Islam whoever kills a Jew goes to paradise.''

Another son of Ziyad Awad's, Hasan Awad, says he was jailed after the killing for a month before being released three weeks ago. ''They asked me about the operation and where I was....I told them I knew nothing about it. They blindfolded me. They chained me to a pipe and made me stand with my hands over my head and my back to the wall. This went on for six days," he says. Hasan Awad, who is 15, says he was beaten in detention and not permitted to go to the toilet. 

The Shin Bet did not reply to a request by the Monitor for a response.

Prisoner exchange

Ziyad Awad served 12 years of a 30-year sentence for killing Palestinians perceived to be collaborators with Israel. In 2011 he walked free, one of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners exchanged for Sgt. Shalit, who was being held by Hamas. 

''When he was freed, I told him that's enough, eat your bread, raise your family, and live your life,'' says Khaled Awad, the oldest of four brothers and a former mayor of Idna. ''And he told me I will not do anything. The whole village believes this [murder accusation] is a fabrication.''

Mohammed Farajala, an in-law, adds: ''Ziyad has a boy who is four months old and a girl who is 14 months. What did they do? If someone made a mistake he should be punished, but not every member of the family.''

Yossi Alpher, the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, says the revival of demolitions "is for internal political reasons. Netanyahu's got his hard right [wing] to please.'' Then there's the anxiety of the Israeli public over the three missing teenagers, whom Netayanhu has promised to find. ''With each passing day that he can't make good on his word, you'll see additional hawkish measures to compensate for not delivering the goods,'' he says.

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