Jerusalem, By John Davison (AFP)
Israel began a crackdown in east Jerusalem Wednesday, a day after an assault by Palestinians on a synagogue killed five people, razing the home of a resident behind an earlier deadly attack.
The demolition, which took place before dawn, was carried out after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a harsh response to the synagogue attack which killed four rabbis at prayer and a policeman.
Two Palestinians wielding meat cleavers and a gun ran amok in the rare assault on a place of worship which was the city’s bloodiest attack in six years.
It came as Israel struggles to contain a wave of unrest in annexed Arab east Jerusalem that has seen a growing number of deadly attacks by lone Palestinians.
“I have ordered the destruction of the homes of the Palestinians who carried out this massacre and to speed up the demolitions of those who carried out previous attacks,” Netanyahu said late on Tuesday.
Several hours later, Israeli forces went to the flashpoint east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan and demolished the third-floor apartment of the family of Abdelrahman Shaludi, who deliberately rammed his car into a crowd of pedestrians last month, killing a young woman and a baby.
Shaludi was shot by police as he fled the scene after his October 22 rampage, later dying of his wounds.
Punitive house demolitions have been used by Israel for years in the West Bank but the policy was halted in 2005 after the army said they had no proven deterrent effect.
Until now, razing homes has never been adopted as a matter of policy in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.
The family home in densely populated Silwan was little more than a shell after the demolition, its inner and outer walls blown out and piles of rubble covering the floor, an AFP correspondent reported.
A falling chunk of concrete hit a car in the street below, crushing it.
The family had moved out ahead of the demolition and were staying with relatives.
“Where can we go now? We have nowhere to live, no home,” said Nibras Shaludi, a younger sister of the man behind the attack.
– Controversial practice –
Israel’s decision to resume the policy of house demolitions was taken on November 6 following a second attack by a Palestinian using a car which killed two Israelis, an official told AFP.
The aim, he said was “to restore calm in Jerusalem” following a wave of attacks in the city.
But in 2005, the army recommended halting the policy, saying it was not effective as a deterrent and suggesting it was likely to encourage violence.
Human rights groups have denounced the practice as collective punishment targeting not the perpetrators but their families.
And last week, the US State Department warned that demolishing homes would be “counterproductive” and would “exacerbate an already tense situation” in Jerusalem.
Israeli commentators too expressed scepticism.
“The effectiveness of demolishing homes is controversial,” wrote Nahum Barnea in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
“The Shin Bet (internal security service) contends that it deters, the army contends that it does not and that it could even have the opposite effect —- it sows the seeds for the next terror attack,” he wrote.
“But all that is irrelevant, because the government … feels that it must show the public that it is punishing the other side.”
Amnesty International said home demolitions were illegal under international law and warned Israel not to “trample over the rights of Palestinians … in order to restore security.”
Aside from the homes of the two Palestinians behind the synagogue attack, there are another three east Jerusalem apartments earmarked for demolition in connection with a spate of attacks over the past three months.