Israel wrestles with penalty for bombing

October 24, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

QALQILYA, Occupied West Bank -- Israel is confronting a moral question after its identification of last week's Tel Aviv bus bomber: Should a family be punished for the crimes of its son?

Israel has evicted from their home 13 members of the family of Salah As-Souwi Nazal, 27, who appeared on a videotape vowing a suicide attack. Israel said yesterday that blood samples positively identified Mr. Nazal as the attacker who blew up Bus No. 5 Wednesday, killing himself and 22 others.

The Israeli army now wants to blow up the Nazal family house, leaving homeless Nazal's parents, their nine children, a pregnant daughter-in-law and a grandson, age 2.

Nazal's father, Abdel Rahim As-Souwi Nazal, says that his son has not lived at the house for seven months and that he does not support attacks on civilians.

"It is clear to everyone, this is not fair," the elder Mr. Nazal said yesterday of his small, concrete house, now with tin plates nailed over the doors and windows. "We reject this type of violence. Why should me and my family suffer for this?"

The army contends that house demolitions may deter terrorist acts.

"If it is possible to deter a potential terrorist by sealing or destroying his house, we will prefer damage to property," said Lt. Col. Moshe Fogel, a spokesman for the army.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel disagrees with that approach. Despite the revulsion in Israel over the bus attack, the organization has volunteered legal assistance to the family of the suspected bomber.

"We are representing innocent people," said ACRI's lawyer, Eliyahu Avraham. "And we are representing certain values of the Israeli legal system which we believe have to be upheld, even in the war against terrorism.

"A central principle of the Jewish people is that the person who commits a crime is the one who is punished" Mr. Avraham told Israel Radio. "A son doesn't carry the crime of his father, the father doesn't carry the crimes of his son."

Demolition tactic

The tactic of demolition is not new to the Israeli army. In its attempt to put down Palestinian opposition to its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the army has fully or partly destroyed 489 homes since 1989, according to B'tselem, an Israeli human rights organization.

It has sealed off with cinder blocks or steel plates 416 more houses, preventing either part or all of the house from being used, according to B'tselem. The Palestine Human Rights Commission, which also keeps statistics, has slightly higher totals.

The tactic has long been protested by civil rights lawyers, who say it is a violation of the Geneva convention prohibiting an occupying army from punishing innocent civilians.

Colonel Fogel replies that "the sealing and demolition of houses are carried out within the confines of the law and according to concepts that fit international law, which allows the demolition of houses for security purposes."

Privately, army officials say, it is simply a tactic of punishment.

"We will stretch the law to the edge," said one officer, speaking anonymously. "This isn't meant to increase Israel's popularity, but it does deter."

"I think the assumption that there is any kind of deterrence against fanatically motivated religious suicide attackers in blowing up the house of their parents is a far-fetched assumption," replied Mr. Avraham.

He noted that the government successfully opposed a court petition seeking to destroy the house of Dr. Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler who killed 29 Arabs in a Hebron mosque in February.

In the town of Qalqilya, 15 miles northeast of Tel Aviv, Mr. Nazal wondered why deterrence is needed against him.

He is a laborer with the town government and works for $8 a day. He has eight remaining children, ages 5 to 25. His oldest son is married, and the son's pregnant wife and 2-year-old child live in the family home.

Family shut out

On Friday, Israeli soldiers told the family to remove what belongings they have and then nailed tin sheets across the doors and windows of the home. Three Israeli soldiers stand watch from a nearby rooftop to see that the barriers are not removed.

Authorities say they will bulldoze or use explosives on the house. The family's lawyers have appealed to the military commander, and ACRI says the next step will be a petition to the Supreme Court -- all likely within days.

In the meantime, Mr. Nazal's sprawling family has squeezed in with a sister in the town. But it is a crowded, unworkable arrangement, he said.

The house was sealed after Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist group that has claimed responsibility for the bus attack, gave journalists a homemade videotape of the younger Nazal. In it, the young man is holding an automatic rifle and calls himself a "living martyr."

He bid goodbye to his family, cited verses from the Koran, and said that he would carry out a suicide attack against Israelis, although he did not specify what it would be.

Strength of blast

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