On Ari Fuld’s Murder, Israel Must Not Sacrifice Deterrence for Revenge
Ever since Israel first embarked on its policy of destroying the homes of families of terrorists — even if they had nothing to do with the attacks — successive governments and the IDF have justified this policy before the Supreme Court, claiming that it significantly enhances security by being an effective deterrent against terror.
Under international law, an occupying military force is expressly forbidden from conducting any collective punitive measures against the civilian population under its control. Demolishing the home of a family, most of whose members had no role in the attack, can be regarded as a form of illegal collective punishment and therefore a possible war crime, unless the relevant military force can prove it was done for valid security considerations.
So far, the Supreme Court has, for the most part, accepted the IDF’s claims that demolishing family residences was not being done out of spite or revenge, but for legitimate security reasons, as it has been proven to be an effective deterrent that has materially reduced the number of attacks.
This policy was implemented with renewed vigor when the so-called “Third Intifada,” characterized by individual Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and security personnel (predominantly knifings or attempted hit-and-run vehicular homicide attacks), began approximately three years ago.
Several appeals to the Supreme Court against house demolitions were rejected by the Court, which accepted the argument that the threat of home demolition has proven to be an effective deterrent. There has, in fact, been an increase in the number of attacks thwarted by families who informed either Israeli or Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces that someone in the family was planning such an attack.
This is exactly what happened with Khalil Yussef Ali Jabarin, the Palestinian teenager who murdered Efrat resident Ari Fuld in the town’s mall on September 16. Jabarin’s family, suspecting he might be planning to carry out a terror attack after he mysteriously disappeared, informed PA security officials that their son might be about to commit an act of violence.
The next day, his mother drove to the Meitar checkpoint (the one closest to their village) and told the Israeli soldiers that her son might be involved in a planned terror attack. She was unable to provide any more information, as she had none, and returned home. Shortly afterwards, Jabarin killed Ari Fuld before the soldiers at Meitar could do anything with the information she had given them.
Despite the family’s attempt to thwart the attack, the IDF announced it would demolish their home, and canceled the work permits of all the extended family members who work in Israel.
If the IDF does indeed permanently revoke the work permits and demolish the family home, despite the family’s having done everything it could to try to prevent the attack, it is hard to claim that the measures are being taken to promote deterrence.
Such acts are more likely to erode deterrence than enhance it. If Palestinians see that it makes no difference whether they try to thwart an act of terrorism by a family member or not, and their home will be demolished either way, they will have less motivation to contact the authorities if an act of terrorism is anticipated. Why inform on your son or daughter and risk being branded a traitor by your community if your home will be destroyed no matter what?
Demolishing the Jabarin home will also likely be seen as an act of revenge or spite, thereby reducing the chances the Supreme Court will allow it (assuming an appeal is filed). The IDF’s attempt to carry out an act of revenge in this case will make it more difficult for it to receive future approvals for legitimate demolitions, further eroding deterrence.
The fact that Israel attempted to carry out a forbidden act of collective punishment with no security justification could provide the Palestinians with a potent legal diplomatic weapon, increasing the risk of ICC involvement in the conflict, a long-sought Palestinian goal.
Revenge, however understandable and politically expedient it may be, can never be a basis for a viable security strategy. For any government to knowingly mortgage its ability to maintain future deterrence, and expose its citizens to the risk of ending up at the Hague, in order to score short-term political points is gross folly.
If Israel is to maintain effective deterrence, demolitions must be limited to cases where it is clear the family either encouraged an attack or, at the very least, made no effort to prevent it.
Jonathan Ariel is a South African native who served as an intelligence officer with the ANC and subsequently worked with Nelson Mandela. In Israel he was news editor of Makor Rishon, editor-in-chief of Ma’ariv International, and editor-in-chief of Jerusalem Online’s English-language website Channel 2 News. BESA Center Perspectives Papers, such as this one, are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.