Israel eases targeting of terrorists' kin

Mohammed Ajouri is a 68-year-old grandfather, but he is young enough to be part of Israel's new deterrent campaign against suicide bombers.

The arrest of Mr. Ajouri and the demolition of his three-story house here on Friday is Israel's response to the alleged actions of his son, a Fatah militia leader. It signals a tough new Israeli policy unveiled after two devastating Palestinian attacks last week.

Israel's plan, softened on Sunday, is to target "complicit" families of Palestinian suicide bombers. The aim is to persuade would-be bombers there will be a heavy personal price for their actions.

"If there is one thing an Arab cares about, it's his mother and father," says Israel's deputy internal security minister Gideon Ezra.

Mr. Ajouri is the father of Ali al Ajouri whom Israel says is responsible for dispatching a double suicide bombing team to Tel Aviv last week that killed three people in addition to the bombers.

The Israeli cabinet has endorsed the idea that it can save lives if it expels relatives of bombers from the West Bank to the isolated and enclosed Gaza Strip.

But the plan has met with a stiff international criticism and legal obstacles. On Sunday, Israel altered its criterion for expulsion of any family member. Only relatives "complicit or otherwise involved in the criminal terrorism of suicide attacks, including aiding and abetting" are to be deported, according to the foreign ministry.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported yesterday that the deportation threat was working. Unnamed military sources said that two Palestinian families had turned in potential suicide bombers.

Even so, some Israeli analysts question the value of the tactic. "After two years in which there has been so much friction between the two sides, the desire for revenge is so great that this will not make any difference," says Reuven Paz, director of the Project for Research of Islamic Movements in Herzliya, a Tel Aviv suburb. "It may be a good method to calm down the Israeli public, but it will not deter terrorists."

The Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, is reportedly still interrogating 21 relatives of wanted men from the Nablus area.

If Mr. Ajouri is an example, most relatives of bombers, like most Palestinians, sympathize with "resistance activities" against Israelis, generally viewing them as a way of striking back against the army. Until four months ago, Ali Ajouri used to sometimes come to visit the family here, say relatives. His two brothers, Kifah and Ahmed, were also arrested Friday.

"Ali's father loved [his son's actions] and hated them," says a relative. "He knew that it would destroy the work of all those years of building the house. Now we cannot decide whether we are proud or sad."

Asked about the possible expulsions, the relative said: "The home is gone, Kifah's wife is pregnant, she has two sons and is expecting a new baby in the coming days. Ahmed has seven children and a wife. Food, money, children, schools. Who will take care of all these things?"

In response to the threat of deportation, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade threatened to target the families of Israeli officials.

Israel has used deportation before but not against families. In the 1980s, individual deportations of Palestinian leaders to Lebanon caused them to lose some of their influence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, says Mr. Paz. A mass deportation of 415 Hamas activists and leaders to Lebanon in 1991 "did not prove itself" in part because they gained a great deal of admiration in the Arab world, he says.

Israel intensively used house demolitions as a weapon against Palestinians during the early years of the first intifada uprising, from 1988-90, when 330 houses were demolished and 220 sealed, according to Israeli military statistics. But the practice was largely abandoned in the period after the 1993 Oslo agreement. This year, at least eight houses have been totally destroyed. Friday's demolition of the large Ajouri house here left 35 relatives homeless. Three neighboring houses were also damaged.

"House demolitions did not affect the first intifada at all, in fact committees were formed to rebuild houses" says Bassem Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. "Demolitions and expulsions never prevent actions against the Israeli people or government."

In Mr. Eid's view, no military actions ...only a peace process might solve the violence."

Yesterday, Israel's foreign minister said that Israeli troops are ready to withdraw from two of seven West Bank cities if Palestinian security forces can take over and prevent attacks against Israel. Israel also released $20 million of about $600 million in Palestinian tax revenues it has seized.

Meanwhile, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel criticized the expulsion tactic on moral grounds.

"Any attempt to hurt innocent family members would blur the boundaries of a democratic state, dedicated to the protection of the law and of human rights, and cognizant of the limits of excessive force," it said in a statement. "Any such attempt would make us seem more like the very terrorist organizations whose values we fight against."

Quoting from Deuteronomy 24, the association added: "Fathers shall not be put to death for the sins of their sons, neither shall sons be put to death for the sins of their fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin."

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