By EA Hannah, Northern West Bank
One of the many troubling aspects of the occupation of Palestine is the Israeli government’s use of collective punishment against the Palestinian population. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly prohibits the collective punishment of an occupied population, yet many Palestinians feel the impact of this policy on their everyday lives.
In the current upsurge in violence, collective punishment has been used to punish whole families and communities for the suspected crimes of individuals. Last week I went with fellow EAs to meet one affected family in Nablus, in the occupied Northern West Bank. As we entered their apartment, a woman sat in an empty, plainly decorated room nervously fidgeting with her prayer beads, her face drawn. This was the mother of Karam Masri, one of the Palestinians being held on suspicion of shooting two Israeli settlers in the Nablus area on October 1.
The Masri family has recently had two visits by the military. During the first visit on October 8, soldiers entered the apartment at 4am, searching and turning over all the family’s belongings. The dimensions of the windows and doors were taken. The reason for this only became clear on October 15 when soldiers entered, again at 4am, handing over a military order for either the closure or demolition of their home. The family live on the first floor in a building with five other apartments, and a total of 35 inhabitants, meaning that the demolition could affect many different families as well as theirs.
Lutfi Masri, Karam’s father, has made a legal appeal to the Israeli High Court in an attempt to reverse the order, however the success of this is unlikely.
It is clearly vitally important that Karam, and others suspected of this brutal attack, are investigated fully and brought to justice if found guilty. However the use of demolitions to punish a whole community is condemned by the international community as ‘collective punishment’ and was found counterproductive by the Israeli military itself which stopped the practice in 2005 for a number of years. As Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem states, “since this constitutes deliberate harm to innocents, it is clear that even if house demolition had the desired deterrent effect, it would, nevertheless, remain unlawful”.
One of Karam’s relatives said, “it doesn’t matter whether Karam is found innocent or guilty, the family shouldn’t be made to suffer”. As Lutfi told us, “This is justice of the strong”.
Since October 1 there has been a dramatic increase in violence across the West Bank with almost daily clashes in some areas: as reported by Al Jazeera, 10 Israelis and 52 Palestinians have been killed. However, now the entire Palestinian population is facing further restrictions and harsher control measures. Israeli soldiers across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem who normally stand with their machine guns strapped to their back are holding their fingers on the trigger ready to shoot. As the occupying power, the official role of the Israeli military under international law is to protect the civilian population of the occupied territory. However, as nine prominent Israeli and international human rights organisations have argued, recent calls by Israeli politicians to shoot Palestinian attackers rather than arrest them effectively endorses the killing of Palestinians. Furthermore, as this report reminds us, “in instances when Jews have been suspected of attacks, none of the suspects has been shot”.In addition, the Israeli occupation further entrenches the abuse of Palestinians through the legal system in the West Bank: Israeli settlers, who live in settlements that are illegal under international law – see my last blog – live under civilian law, whereas Palestinians are under military law which gives them fewer rights such as access to legal advice. For example when questioned by the police for suspected actions such as stone throwing, an Israeli child has the right to have a parent present whereas a Palestinian child questioned under Israeli military law has no such right. Furthermore, an Israeli child can only receive a custodial sentence when they are at least 14 years old, yet a Palestinian child may be sent to prison at the age of 12. The result of these two legal systems is that Palestinians are all in it together, whereas Israeli settlers in the West Bank are immune to the military’s use of collective punishment and other excesses of the army’s practices, as detailed by the Israeli group Breaking the Silence.
Aref Hanani, the mayor of Beit Furik, a town nearby to the Masri family, told us that, “if we have the same law and equality [as Israeli settlers], I think it would be easy to live with settlers”.
Overnight on Friday, November 13, the Masri family’s house was demolished after the appeal to the Israeli High Court was unsuccessful.