(Jerusalem) – Israeli authorities’ actions to seal the family homes in the occupied West Bank of two Palestinians suspected of attacks against Israelis amount to collective punishment, a war crime, Human Rights Watch said today.
This punitive measure, which Israeli authorities have said they will follow by demolishing the homes, comes amid a spike in violence that has cost the lives of 35 Palestinians and 6 Israelis since January 1, 2023. The violence has included Israeli army raids that unlawfully attack Palestinian cities and refugee camps, Palestinian attacks on Israelis, and attacks on Palestinians and their property by Israeli settlers, who rarely face punishment for these crimes.
“Deliberate attacks on civilians are reprehensible crimes,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. “But just as no grievance can justify the intentional targeting of civilians in Neve Yaakov, such attacks cannot justify Israeli authorities intentionally punishing the families of Palestinian suspects by demolishing their homes and throwing them out on the street.”
One of the alleged Palestinian assailants, Khayri Alqam, opened fire in the Israeli settlement of Neve Yaakov in occupied East Jerusalem on January 27, killing seven civilians, including a child and a Ukrainian national, and wounding three other people, before he was fatally shot by Israeli security forces. The attack came a day after Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians, including 2 children and a 61-year-old woman, injuring at least 20, during a raid in the Jenin refugee camp.
In January, Israeli forces killed 35 Palestinians, including 8 children, according to the Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry. The January 26 raid in Jenin refugee camp was the single incident that month with the most deaths. Israeli authorities said their forces entered Jenin to apprehend members of armed Palestinian groups who they alleged had carried out attacks on Israelis. Witnesses reported an exchange of gunfire, killing both apparent combatants and civilians. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said Israeli forces blocked medics from entering the Jenin camp to treat the injured.
The raid follows more than 10 months of intensified Israeli army raids in the West Bank, after several deadly attacks by Palestinians inside Israel in March 2022. Israeli forces killed 151 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 35 children, during 2022, according to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than in any other year since the UN began systematically recording fatalities in 2005. Israeli forces routinely use excessive or unnecessary lethal force against Palestinian civilians and are rarely held accountable for it.
On January 28, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and gravely wounded two Israelis, a civilian and an off-duty soldier, in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. The boy was wounded by an armed individual and hospitalized. No Palestinian armed group claimed responsibility for either the Neve Yaakov or Silwan attacks.
Israeli police said they detained 42 people in connection with the Neve Yaakov attack, many of them relatives and acquaintances of Alqam. Most were released the next day, but some remain in detention, a lawyer representing Alqam’s family told Human Rights Watch on January 31. The Israeli security cabinet also authorized sealing Alqam’s family home, which the authorities carried out immediately.
A lawyer for the Palestinian boy who allegedly carried out the Silwan attack told Human Rights Watch that Israeli authorities have detained the boy’s mother, father, and brother since the attack. The cabinet also agreed to seal the home of the boy’s family. Israeli forces have taken control of their house, according to the Israeli human rights group HaMoked.
Israeli authorities have also taken a range of other measures in response to the Neve Yaakov attack. They have stepped up the punishment of Palestinian property owners for “illegal construction” in East Jerusalem, which has already led to the demolitions of properties, including homes, of Palestinians for whom building permits are nearly impossible to obtain. Israeli authorities have also said they plan to “strengthen” West Bank settlements, which violate international law, and have put forward a law to revoke citizenship or permanent residency for anyone who commits “an act of terrorism,” which passed its first reading in the Israeli Knesset on January 31.
Israeli human rights groups have documented an upsurge of settler violence in the West Bank since the Neve Yaakov attack. Between 2005 and 2021, Israeli police closed 92 percent of investigations against settlers who attacked Palestinians without an indictment, according to the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din.
International humanitarian law, including the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibits collective punishment, including deliberately harming the relatives of those accused of committing crimes, in all circumstances. Courts around the world have treated collective punishment as a war crime. However, Israel’s Supreme Court has consistently rejected the claim that the Israeli government’s practice of punitive home demolitions in Occupied Palestinian Territory amounts to collective punishment.
Various types of collective punishment, such as punitive home demolitions and sweeping movement restrictions against entire areas or communities based on the actions of a few people, are among the policies that Israeli authorities have relied on to systematically oppress Palestinians, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch has found that Israeli authorities’ systematic oppression coupled with the inhumane acts they have committed against Palestinians as part of a policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.