Israel Destroys Homes to Deter Terrorists

ByABC News
August 19, 2002, 10:59 AM

Aug. 20 -- It's been called both brilliant and desperate. A new policy by Israel's army started two weeks ago has already prompted five terrorists-to-be to turn themselves in to police.

Israel's Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a policy which allows the Israeli military to bulldoze the family homes of suspected terrorists. Since many of those targeted by Israeli army intelligence officers are teenagers still living at home with parents and siblings, the tactic has shifted the burden of the crime from the individual to the family.

But opponents question whether the policy is aimed at deterrence, or just destruction.

According to the Israeli Defense Forces, the policy has convinced five suspected terrorists to turn themselves into authorities. In each instance, the IDF said the suspect cited concern for his or her home.

"The demolition of the terrorists' houses and those of their dispatchers is designated to make the terrorists aware of the price of their actions, thus attempting to prevent additional terror attacks," according to an IDF statement.

Under the procedure, Israeli officials will notify a family that one of its members is being charged with aiding terrorist activity, and the family is then given the opportunity to surrender the accused. If handed over, one family member takes the fall and the others along with their home are spared.

If not, the Israeli government presents its case for demolition to the Supreme Court, where it must prove that the family knew of the terrorist plotting of the accused member. Families have the right to defend themselves in court. So far, 23 homes have been razed under the new law.

The U.S. State Department has criticized the Israeli government's initiative.

"Taking punitive actions against innocent people won't solve Israel's security problems," a State Department spokesman said at the time of the Israeli Supreme Court's decision last week to allow the procedure. Israel defends the practice by saying that the families knew of the terrorist plots, and were therefore party to the crimes.