Bombing suspects'families pay price Israel destroys home as terror 'deterrent'

December 16, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ASIRA SHAMALIYA, Occupied West Bank -- Fatima Yassin paid the price yesterday for her son's alleged role as one of two suicide bombers who killed 16 people in Jerusalem's central market this summer.

At dawn, bulldozers operated by Israeli soldiers tore into the Yassins' stucco home in this Palestinian village north of Nablus. Yassin raised seven sons and six daughters in the house. Israel says Yassin's seven sons include Touwafik, 25, one of two suicide bombers who struck in Jerusalem's central market July 30.

In addition to destroying the Yassin home, the Israelis destroyed the family home of another suspected bomber and sealed the houses of two other suspected terrorists. The actions came after Israel's Supreme Court rejected appeals by the four families to save their homes.

Israel ordered the demolitions after genetic tests linked the families with the remains of the bombers responsible for the July market attack and the Aug. 31 explosion at the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall. Twenty-one people were killed in the two attacks.

"This morning Israeli armed forces are demolishing and sealing four structures in the village of Asira al-Shamaliya in which the families of the suicide bombers lived," an army spokesman told Reuters. "This is not a punishment. It's simply a deterrent measure aimed at preventing bombings in the future."

Fatima Yassin and her husband, Ali, claim they knew nothing of their son Touwafik's plan to ignite a bomb strapped to his body in the Mahane Yehuda market in downtown Jerusalem. They say they hadn't seen their son since he allegedly escaped last fall from a Palestinian jail.

They aren't convinced the remains of the bomber are in fact their son's -- though genetic tests showed otherwise.

"Why does Israel claim it's a democratic state when there is collective punishment?" an uncle of Yassin's demanded in an interview before yesterday's demolition. He refused to give his name. "Let us assume the son did what the Israelis say he did. What did his mother and father do?"

Touwafik's sister, Madihah Hamadneh, wondered about the double standard in which the punishment is used only against Palestinians. "Did they punish the family of the one who killed [Yitzhak] Rabin?" she asked, referring to the religious Jew who assassinated the prime minister in November 1995.

There is some irony in the Israelis' use of house destructions as a punishment for terrorism. The law it invokes actually was promulgated by British authorities against the Jewish underground during the British mandate in Palestine before the founding of Israel in 1948.

Then, as now, the emergency regulations of 1945 were used to combat terrorism. The regulation provides for the forfeiture of a house or land and destruction of the home or anything in it.

Both the Labor governments and present Likud government of Israel have used the regulation.

Earlier this year, army bulldozers flattened three houses in the Palestinian village of Surif, the homes of members of a terrorist cell that Israel claimed was responsible for 11 deaths, including three women killed in a March suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv cafe.

In 1996, following the wave of suicide bombings that struck Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the Israeli army demolished 10 houses.

From 1987 to 1993, the violent years of the Palestinian uprising known as the intifada, demolitions and house sealings were part of Israel's arsenal. The Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq claims Israel demolished 896 houses in the West Bank and '' Gaza Strip for security reasons.

The Israeli army disputes the statistics but not the tactic. A spokesman said demolitions on the West Bank since 1987 totaled 238; he could provide no data for the Gaza Strip.

Critics say the demolitions are a form of collective punishment, which violates international law. However, Israel's high court has ruled the actions to be deterrents to further violence. The Israeli army maintains that an article of the Geneva Convention allows for such actions when "rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."

But Israel's recent history with suicide bombers shows the demolitions do little to deter other terrorists from engaging in the same deadly fight.

The demolitions in Surif -- publicized throughout Israel and the occupied territories where most Palestinians live -- took place in late April. Three months later, suicide killers set off their bombs in Jerusalem's crowded outdoor market.

And yet Israel maintains that it must act. "If you don't do anything, maybe there will be more terrorist acts," said one military official.

In carrying out demolitions, authorities must consider the innocent people who might be affected, Israeli courts have ruled. The army must have concrete evidence proving a suspect's involvement in a terrorist act. The degree of involvement by a suspect's family also must be considered and might determine whether a whole house is destroyed or only part of it sealed.

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