Israel’s Lopsided Legal System

By Joharah Baker

Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes is nothing new. Since the inception of the occupation in 1967, thousands of Israeli military orders have been handed to Palestinians informing them of the imminent destruction of their houses. The reasons – or excuses – for this destructive policy are many: involvement in resistance against the Israeli occupation [known as "terror" to Israel], illegal construction, or for "urban planning" [i.e., when the decades-old home and surrounding land is in the way of a new Jewish settlement in the West Bank or east Jerusalem].

So, Israeli government plans to demolish the homes of Palestinians living in Jerusalem because they were involved in attacks against Israelis, hardly raises eyebrows. Not because this punitive measure is not cruel or inhumane but because Israel has never been known for its overly humane treatment of the Palestinians under its occupation.

Still, Israel continues to take the world for a fool – at least the Palestinians – when it feigns legality when debating the issue of demolishing Palestinian homes in Jerusalem. This week, Israeli government officials say they are close to overcoming the legal hurdles necessary to get approval to demolish the home of ‘Ala Abu Dheim, the east Jerusalem resident who gunned down eight yeshiva students last March. The orders to demolish the homes of the two men who ploughed through Israeli traffic with their bulldozers earlier this month is still pending.

Of course all three men were killed on the spot by Israeli police. At no time did Israeli security officers try to apprehend the men and actually give them their fair day in court, which is the usual procedure in democratic countries. Israel’s ‘shoot to kill’ attitude has become the run of the mill, all in the name of security. Children playing ball in the vicinity of the border between Gaza and Israel were shot at and killed because patrolling soldiers believed they were "terrorists" trying to infiltrate into Israel.

The point here is that Israel still feels obligated to use the justification of legality when it carries out these highly illegal acts even though in reality, legality is the last consideration. Besides, in what civilized country is demolishing the home of a criminal considered "legal" and not inhumane collective punishment? When Baruch Goldstein sprayed a Hebron mosque with bullets, gunning down 29 Muslims kneeling in prayer, Israeli bulldozers hardly rushed to tear down his home in the settlement of Kiryat Arba. When an Israeli F-16 fighter plane dropped a 500-pound bomb on a Gaza apartment building, destroying the homes of several families and killing at least 16 people, the pilot did not have to worry about his family losing the roof over their heads because of his terror-filled act.

Even if we move out of the murky waters of Israeli/Palestinian politics, this brutal form of collective punishment is unprecedented in other parts of the civilized world, at least against its own citizens. While the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh who was held responsible for the deaths of 168 people was arrested and later sentenced to death, his family’s home is still standing. The punishment was meted out against the perpetrator only; the way it should be.

However, when it comes to Palestinians, different standards are applied. While Israel claims such punitive measures are meant as a deterrent to further attacks against Israelis, the real purpose is plain and simple: punish the Palestinians, even if they have nothing to do with the crime.

On a more massive scale, this is the policy the United States undertook post-September 11, 2001. We all know Israel takes its cue from the US, or vice versa. Following the Twin Tower and Pentagon attacks which took the lives of almost 3,000 Americans, the US, or President George W. Bush and his cronies, decided someone had to pay. Of course those who actually carried out the attacks were already dead and the elusive mastermind behind it is still at large. That did not stop Bush from forcing whole nations pay the price for the lives of innocent Americans. Thousands were killed in the bombings in Afghanistan and thousands more in Iraq, with the body count still rising. Of course there are several other factors at play here besides the declared purpose of catching Osama Bin Laden, first and foremost, western dominance in the Middle East. Still, the similarities are chilling. When Israel invades the entire Gaza Strip, killing hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the name of one Israeli soldier, is this any different from Bush’s gung-ho attitude? Hardly.

In Rafah, the Israeli army forces razed approximately 1,500 homes over four years, predominantly to close smuggling tunnels from Egypt and to create a buffer zone between Gaza and the Egyptian border. In this case, Israel did not even bother with legal channels given that the residents were Palestinian Gazans [as opposed to Israeli-ID Jerusalemites] and because like in all other Israeli arguments, defending their security trumps all.

East Jerusalemites – and Palestinians as a whole – face these discriminative, racist-at-heart punishments every day. Only because they are Palestinian, and in comparison, only because the 9/11 bombers were Arab and Muslim – were these extreme measures taken. In both cases, whether it was the Bush administration or the Israeli government, the attitude is one of arrogance and superiority. That is, because they are the US and Israel, this gives them a carte blanche to act with impunity. Any other less influential country would have been criticized or even forcefully stopped by the so-called international community for similar transgressions. We all remember when Saddam Hussein foolishly decided to enter Kuwait and "occupy" it. That occupation didn’t last 40 days much less 40 years.

So, when the Israeli media reports that the "legal obstacles" preventing the demolition of ‘Ala Abu Dheim’s house "had been removed" and that the demolition of the other two Palestinian homes was still up against "legal difficulties", it is clear this is part of a more comprehensive master-plan for the Palestinians in general and for Jerusalem in particular. Israel, and even America, hardly worries about the fact that they have blatant double-standards or that their actions come across as racist.

This is not to justify violent acts against any party, whether Palestinian or Israel because it is a well-known fact that violence only begets more violence. However, in the occupied territories, only Palestinian violence against Israelis merits such extreme reactions. It is not only a punishment for the families of those who carried out the attacks but a reminder to all Palestinians that even a flicker of resistance against Israel will not be tolerated.

– Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at (This article was originally published in MIFTAH – – and is republished by the with permission.)

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