Human Rights Watch, the US-based rights-monitoring group, has called on Israel to impose an immediate moratorium on its policy of demolition of homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks on Israelis.
Following several attacks in Jerusalem in which Israelis have been killed, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, last week revived the controversial policy in the occupied territories including East Jerusalem.
Activists say the policy deliberately punishes people who are not accused of any wrongdoing and, according to Human Rights Watch, amounts to collective punishment.
The Israeli military ended an earlier policy of punitive home demolitions in 1998, but reinstated it after the start of the second Palestinian intafada in 2000.
Israel again halted the policy in 2005 after top generals determined that it was not an effective deterrent.
Following the November 18 killings in a synagogue in Jerusalem that killed four Jewish worshippers and an Israeli police officer, demolition orders were served on the families of the two Palestinian men involved in the attack.
Figures provided by the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD) indicate that more than 48,000 Palestinian homes and structures have been demolished in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, displacing more than 160,000 Palestinians.
Al Jazeera speaks to Jeff Halper, head of ICAHD, about the demolition of Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem.
Al Jazeera: Do you see house demolitions accelerating?
Jeff Halper: Netanyahu said at the UN a couple of weeks ago that there is no more political process. Israel does not pretend it is looking for a political solution. The policy is to sow despair among the Palestinians so that they will basically give up. All the repressive policies including house demolitions will get worse until the Palestinians basically submit. That’s the Israeli idea.
Al Jazeera: Do demolitions make the situation on the ground more secure, or less?
Halper: Punitive demolitions ended in 2005 after the Israeli army came to the conclusion that they were counterproductive and actually inflamed the situation. House demolitions do not deter but create more violence. When Israel announced it was demolishing the homes of the people this week, all of East Jerusalem pretty much went up in flames.
Al Jazeera: Is the law applicable equally to all who are accused of violent crimes?
Halper: This is a discriminatory policy. First of all, the homes of the suspects are demolished because the Palestinians are often killed before they get to court. If not, their homes are destroyed before they are tried and convicted. It is an act of collective punishment against entire families. These kinds of draconian measures are never ever done against [Israelis]. The killers of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir last July never had their homes threatened. In general [Israelis] – including settlers who are involved in constant violence against Palestinians, even those who commit murder – are never targeted.
Al Jazeera: What role does ICAHD play?
Halper: We are resisting the demolition of homes. We try to physically resist the demolition. We rebuild homes that have been demolished. We have built 180 homes as a political act of resistance. We are taking our research and data to the international community. We try to lobby governments to find a way out of this mess.
Al Jazeera: What happens to families after their homes are destroyed? Does the state give them any remuneration or support?
Halper: The Palestinians are considered offenders. They are either accused of criminal acts or they are not given permits for building. Not only are they not compensated, they are fined and made to pay for the demolition of their own homes.
What happens then is they have to move into the homes of family members. There is no alternative housing for them, so they move in with relatives who are also living in inadequate conditions.
The families are traumatised: they have nowhere to live.
Israel’s policy is to sow despair among the Palestinians so that they will basically give up and submit.
All the repressive policies, including house demolitions, will get worse until the Palestinians basically give up. That’s the Israeli idea.