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House Demolitions

The next time someone complains that Israel’s demolition of PLO Arab houses in its search for tunnels is unjustified, point to this report:

Mustafa used to fear little but a periodic Israeli army raid as he dug arms smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip for the Palestinian revolt. Now he has to worry about the neighbours too.

Running guns and contraband through tunnels into Rafah refugee camp from nearby Egypt was once both profitable and patriotic in Palestinian eyes. It put rare cash into a poor economy and fuelled “resistance” to Israeli occupation in Gaza.

But communal support for the smugglers has cooled as Israeli forces have razed more and more parts of Rafah said to be hiding tunnels. With 13,000 people now homeless, many of whom say they concealed nothing, residents are turning on the tunnel men.

“Many people now oppose our work. I know of cases where people have noticed others digging a tunnel and they have assaulted them,” said Mustafa, a veteran Rafah tunnel builder who declined to give his family name.

Residents have staged no public protests against the tunnel networks for fear of seeming disloyal to the uprising in Rafah, which is dominated by militant factions.

But the tunnel issue has become the talk of the town, with many residents privately urging tunnel builders to cease, and threatening them and their families if they do not.

The backlash has grown since a six-day Israeli siege of Rafah in May that killed 42 people, militants and civilians alike, and displaced hundreds after a spate of demolitions.

Some tunnels have been blocked off by irate residents concerned their adjacent homes might be bulldozed or blown up during the next Israeli army sweep.

Many in the sprawling cinder-block camp of 80,000 people fret that the spread of tunnels has given raiding Israelis leeway to flatten any housing in their way.

By the way, this is a Reuters report written by Nidal al-Mughrabi, in case you want to write it off as being pro-Israel.

Update: When examining the legality of house demolitions under international law, the relevant provision is article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states the following:

Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.

A strong case can be made that the demolition of houses in an attempt to locate arms smuggling tunnels constitutes destruction that is “rendered absolutely necessary.” Even the destruction of adjacent houses may fall under this provision since IDF troops attempt to spend as little time outside as possible to avoid enemy fire.

Regarding Israel’s destruction of the homes of suicide bombers, it could also be argued that its deterrent quality renders such demolition “absolutely necessary.” Critics argue that these demolitions do not deter, but I would suggest that they do deter; you only hear of the suicide bombers who were not deterred by them. The above Reuters story indicates that the demolitions are having a positive effect on Israel’s security.

Human rights organizations also attempt to invoke article 33 which states:

No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Pillage is prohibited.

Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

I would answer by saying that in the case of houses demolished in the search for tunnels, and where the owners were not at fault in the construction of the tunnel, Israel offers to pay compensation for the damage to the house. Therefore, collective punishment is not involved. In the case of the relatives of terrorists, they are more often than not involved with the activities of the terrorists’ activities, at least on an educational level.

By the way, the issue of whether the Fourth Geneva Convention even applies to Israel is highly contentious. A case can be made that it does not.

Update: There is more on PLO Arab protests against the tunnels here.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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