“According to the binding precedent”: the HCJ unanimously approved the punitive demolition of two West Bank homes of the innocent relatives of the suspects in a fatal attack
On February 20, 2020, the High Court of Justice (HCJ) unanimously approved the punitive demolition of an apartment and a house in the West Bank, the homes of the relatives of two Palestinian men indicted for the August 23, 2019 attack in which Israeli Rina Shnerb was killed.
HaMoked had filed two petitions against the demolition of a home in Ramallah (one on behalf of the family, the other on behalf of the neighbors living in the eight-story building) and a petition
against the demolition of a family home in Bir Zeit. Justice Willner’s judgement adopted the state’s position in its entirety and rejected all three petitions.
Justice Willner rejected HaMoked’s principled claims – that this constituted prohibited collective punishment of innocent people and that its effectiveness as a deterrent was doubtful – ruling that “given the murderous terror waves Israel has been facing for years… reasonable and proportionate use of the authority to seize and demolish, established in Regulation 119 [of the Defence (Emergency] Regulation] for deterrence purposes… is a necessity beyond reproach, and constitutes one of the clear expressions
of a defensive democracy” (emphasis added).
The judgement is striking in that it echoes populist media rhetoric. Thus, Supreme Court Vice President Melcer in his supporting opinion: “I asked [during the hearing] whether any of the petitioners condemned, even after the fact, the assailants’ actions… My question, alas, remained hanging and was answered only by the uncomfortable and difficult silence of the petitioners’ attorneys.” He added that “this response raises questions and stands alongside the moving words of Rabbi Shnerb [the victim’s father], spoken at the hearing…”.
In fact, in the hearing, Justice Melcer even asked whether the neighboring families had condemned the attack. These questions were indeed answered by HaMoked’s attorneys, who said that they were irrelevant to the review of a demolition order targeting the home of people who had done nothing wrong. This question disparages the family without grounds, and places on them the burden of “proving” their innocence. Moreover, the Vice President went on to say that “had a condemnation been expressed – it could have also contributed to deterrence, and served, in suitable cases, as a measure that might be taken into account as a possible alternative to the [demolition] orders, or for the ways of carrying them out [sic
]”. However, in just such a case, in April 2019, the HCJ approved the demolition
of an apartment which was the home of an assailant’s parents despite the fact that they had strongly condemned their son’s act.
Additionally, HaMoked deplores the fact that the judgment was distributed to the press before it was duly delivered to HaMoked, contrary to proper procedure.