HaMoked to the military: eighteen years after a punitive home demolition, the family must be allowed to rebuild המוקד להגנת הפרט
HaMoked to the military: eighteen years after a punitive home demolition, the family must be allowed to rebuild
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Since 1967, Israel has demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes as a punitive measure pursuant to Regulation 119 of the Defense (Emergency) Regulations of the British Mandate. In recent years, the military issues punitive demolition orders only following Palestinian acts of violence in which an Israeli was killed. However, in the past, such orders were issued following a wide variety of acts, even those without any casualties. Then, as now, the punitive demolition does not replace criminal proceedings but is implemented in addition to them and even before an indictment is filed. Israel justifies punitive home demolitions as a necessary deterrent to violence. However, this is an immoral policy of explicit collective punishment, willfully harming innocent people, including minors. Although use of collective punishment is prohibited under international law, the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ) has refused time and again to review the principled issues raised by HaMoked in its petitions against punitive demolition orders.

Under Regulation 119, the demolition or sealing of a home is accompanied by the seizure (“forfeiture”) of the structure and the plot on which it is built. This means that rebuilding on the plot is indefinitely prohibited and may be permitted, at least in theory, only subject to a military remission order .

On June 6, 2021, HaMoked wrote to the military on behalf of a Palestinian man from the village of Dir al-Ghusun in the West Bank, whose home had been demolished 18 years ago, on June 3, 2003. In the letter, HaMoked informed the military about the man’s plans to build a house on the plot and also requested that a remission order be issued, insofar as a seizure and demolition order had in fact been issued at the time.

The man and his brother lost both their parents at an early age and jointly owned the two-story house. They lived on the second floor and leased out the first floor apartment to another family who lived there. In December 2002, at the height of the second intifada, the man’s brother was arrested and was later convicted of various offences and sentenced to 18 years in prison. On the night of June 3, 2003 – and apparently following the brother’s actions – the military arrived in force to the village, removed the occupants of the house and detonated it. This, without presenting any prior notice of intent to demolish or a demolition order, as required. Since then, the plot has been left untouched; the man has never made any attempted to use it, despite the fact that no official seizure order had ever been presented.

Now, 18 years later and after the brother finished serving his sentence, the man turned to HaMoked to ascertain vis-à-vis the military that he may rebuild on the plot free of concern that the military might demolish the new building and also – in case there was a seizure order for the plot – to request a remission order clearing the way for reconstruction.

In its letter, HaMoked listed the weighty considerations justifying remission, including the passage of time since the demolition. Another consideration, wrote HaMoked, was based on the military’s position that this is a deterrent measure rather than a punitive one: as such, presumably its objective was attained long ago, making it unnecessary to continue punishing the offender’s brother by leaving the seizure intact. Another consideration concerned the development of Israeli case law on this matter, evolving to limit the application of Regulation 119 to only exceptional cases resulting in Israeli fatalities. Consequently, HaMoked explained, according to the military’s current position, the acts for which the brother had been convicted would not have prompted the issuance of a demolition order in the first place. Additionally, HaMoked argued that cancelation of the seizure was justified solely based on the fact that no demolition order had been presented at the time (or since), meaning that the family had been deprived of the possibility to contest the drastic measure of their home’s demolition.
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