The right move

February 23, 2005

ISRAEL'S DECISION to suspend its policy of demolishing the homes of terrorists' families is a welcome, if overdue, action. Israel's claims that demolitions would deter terrorist attacks have been suspect for years. In fact, a recent Israeli defense review found that house demolitions caused more harm to Israel because they incited hatred and hostility among Palestinians. That review led to last week's policy change. But collective punishment has never been a useful or humane practice.

B'Tselem, Israel's leading human rights group, arrived at the same conclusion last fall. As many as 1,800 homes have been demolished since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the 1967 war. Of those, 675 occurred during the past four years of fighting, displacing about 4,200 Palestinians. B'Tselem also faulted the government for its haphazard use of the policy: Hundreds of homes were demolished without a clear link to a terror attack, and most demolitions occurred without notice to residents.

In the process, Israel created a class of homeless and aggrieved Palestinians and reinforced retribution as a response to violence. Consider the case of Sabih Abu Saud. The demolition of his family home 18 years ago didn't keep the Palestinian teenager from a suicide mission. After he blew himself up in 2003, injuring an Israeli soldier, his family's rebuilt home was destroyed, yet again.

Prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians have been improving since the election of a new Palestinian Authority president. Israel has taken several steps toward that end. Halting the demolitions should be counted among them; it spares Palestinians harm and, in turn, benefits Israel.

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