With a flash and a grey tuft of smoke, Israeli defence forces have demolished another home of a Palestinian behind a deadly shooting.
The apartment was demolished on Thursday morning, this time in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron. It had been the residence of Muhammed Kamel al-Jabari, who last year opened fire at the entrance to a West Bank Israeli settlement, killing an Israeli man and wounding several civilians before a security guard shot him dead.
Israeli police sealed up the family home of another Palestinian man who crashed his car into a Jerusalem bus stop, killing three Israelis, on Sunday, likely in preparation for demolition. Another East Jerusalem home - belonging to a man who killed seven people outside a synagogue - was sealed up in late January, and the government also approved an order to seal the home of a 13-year-old boy who wounded two Israeli men in east Jerusalem just days earlier.
Since it first captured the area in 1967, Israel has demolished an estimated 2,000 homes due to terrorism, the Israel Democracy Institute says. But demolitions have ramped up since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government were re-elected last year.
The Israeli government says they are an effective way to deter would-be attackers, but it has been criticised for leaving relatives who had nothing to do with the attack homeless.
Why are Israeli forces demolishing these houses?
Israel says home demolitions are meant to deter future attackers, and Netanyahu’s government has suggested plans to step up this kind of punitive action.
A new bill introduced by Eliahu Revivo - a member of his government - says: “The national security establishment and the Israeli army have conducted research over the years into dozens of suicide attackers, and it emerged that the one deterrent for suicide attackers is what the consequences for their families will be after the attack,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports.
JTA reported a 2010 study by political scientists at Northwestern University and Hebrew University supported the bill’s claim. It showed that, “punitive house demolitions - those targeting Palestinian suicide terrorists and terror operatives - cause an immediate, significant decrease in the number of suicide attacks”. “The effect dissipates over time and by geographic distance,” the paper said.
Why is the government being criticised for these demolitions?
Critics say the demolitions amount to collective punishment against assailants’ families, and only exacerbate tensions with Palestine. Collective punishment - or punishment imposed on an entire group for the actions of one member - is banned by the Geneva Conventions.
The United Nations put out a statement expressing alarm at the Israeli government’s endorsement of punitive evictions and demolitions earlier this week.
“The sealing of family homes of suspected offenders and the subsequent demolition of their homes is in fundamental disrespect of international human rights norms and the rule of law,” it said. “Such acts amount to collective punishment which is strictly prohibited under international law.”
It is not just relatives of Palestinians involved in terror attacks who are being displaced by demolitions. In late January - days after a gunman killed seven people in east Jerusalem - Israel’s new national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called not only for the sealing of the assailant’s family home, but the immediate demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes built without permits in the area, the Associated Press reports.
Ben-Gvir posted a photo on Twitter of one of the bulldozers descending on a building, writing: “We will fight terrorism with all the means at our disposal.” The home belonged to a civilian family unconnected to any terror attacks.
Why is there so much tension and unrest in the West Bank?
The roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict go back 100 years, when Britain took control of the area after World War One. The land was mostly inhabited by Arabic-speaking people at the time, but Britain was asked by the national community to create a homeland for Jewish people.
Palestinian-Arabs opposed the move, saying they had a claim to the land. The British left the area in 1948 and Jewish leaders declared the creation of the state of Israel, a move which angered Palestinians and caused a war which saw troops from nearby Arab countries invade.
The war led to thousands of Palestinians being forced out of their homes, and by the end of the conflict, Israel was in control of the majority of the territory. Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war. The Palestinians, still hoping to establish their own, independent state, want to reclaim those territories.
Unrest has been roiling across the region for years, but fighting has intensified in recent weeks as Netanyahu’s new, right-wing government rose to power. Israel has been conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank, prompted by a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis last spring.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 2022, and about 50 Palestinians have been killed there so far this year. Israel says most of those killed have been militants, but young Palestinian protesters and others not involved in confrontations have also reportedly been killed.
About 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis last year, and another seven people were killed in the synagogue attack last month.