HRW: Sealing Palestinian homes as collective punishment amounts to a war crime

Middle East Monitor  /  February 2, 2023

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, Thursday, the Israeli authorities’ measures to seal the homes of two Palestinians suspected of attacks against Israelis “amount to collective punishment”, and is a “war crime”.

The Israeli punitive measures are implemented against the families of Khairy Alqam, 21, who last Friday, opened fire in the Israeli settlement of Neve Yaakov in occupied East Jerusalem on 27 January, killing seven people and wounding three other people, as well as Mahmoud Muhammad Aliwat, 13, accused by the Israeli Forces of carrying out a shooting attack in Silwan, East Jerusalem.

On Saturday, the Israeli Forces decided to seal the homes of Alqam and Aliwat in Jabal Mukaber and Silwan neighbourhoods in Occupied East Jerusalem, in preparation for their demolition.

HRW quoted the Director of Israel and Palestine at HRW, Omar Shakir, as saying that “such attacks cannot justify Israeli authorities intentionally punishing the families of Palestinian suspects by demolishing their homes and throwing them out on the street”.

According to HRW, the Israeli authorities continue to detain relatives of Alqam family, while a lawyer for Aliwat’s family told HRW that the Israeli authorities have detained the boy’s mother, father and brother since the attack.

The Israeli authorities have also taken a range of other measures in response to the Neve Yaakov attack, including stepping up the punishment of Palestinian property owners for “illegal construction” in East Jerusalem, which has already led to the demolition of properties, including homes, of Palestinians for whom building permits are nearly impossible to obtain.

The Israeli authorities have also said they plan to “strengthen” West Bank settlements, which violate international law, and have put forward a law to revoke citizenship or permanent residency for anyone who commits “an act of terrorism”, which passed its first reading in the Israeli Knesset on 31 January.

The rights watchdog has also pointed to the escalation of settlers’ violence in the West Bank since the shooting in Jerusalem, noting that “between 2005 and 2021, the Israeli police closed 92 per cent of investigations against settlers who assaulted Palestinians without filing charges”.

HRW said under “international humanitarian law, including The Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibits collective punishment, including deliberately harming the relatives of those accused of committing crimes, in all circumstances”.

“Courts around the world have treated collective punishment as a war crime. However, Israel’s Supreme Court has consistently rejected the claim that the Israeli government’s practice of punitive home demolitions in Occupied Palestinian Territory amounts to collective punishment”, it added.

Human Rights Watch has found that Israeli authorities’ systematic oppression, coupled with the inhumane acts they have committed against Palestinians as part of a policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians, amount to crimes against humanity, of apartheid and persecution.