Settlers torch Palestinian home as HRW slams Israel's demolition policy

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A relative of Abdulrahman Shaludi displays his portrait inside his family home after it was demolished by Israeli Occupation Forces in annexed East Jerusalem Silwan neighborhood on November 19, 2014. AFP / Ahmad Gharabli

Published Sunday, November 23, 2014

Israeli settlers set fire to a Palestinian home northeast of Ramallah early Sunday, an official told Ma'an news agency, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) slams Israel's demolition policy as "collective punishment."

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settler activity in the northern West Bank, told Ma'an that a group of extremist settlers raided the village of Khirbet Abu Falah and torched the home of Abdul Karim Hussein Hamayil.

The settlers threw a fire bomb into the house through a window before fleeing the scene, Daghlas said, adding that Hamayil's widow and her three daughters were inside the house at the time.

The settlers also spray-painted "death to Arabs" and "vengeance" on the house.

Daghlas added that the settlers first attacked the house with tear gas and stun grenades before attempting to break in, without providing further details.

Also in Ramallah, a group of settlers attempted Friday to burn down a house in the village of al-Mughayyir, but Palestinians were able to prevent them.

The arsons come about a week after a group of settlers attacked the village and torched a mosque as well as 12 copies of the Qur'an, Islam's holy book, in an incident that sparked widespread Palestinian fury.

In mid-October, settlers torched a mosque in the village of Aqraba in the Nablus district and vandalized the interior with racist slogans.

According to Palestinian Religious Endowments Minister Yousef Adeis, in October alone Israeli settlers carried out 110 separate attacks on religious sites across the Palestinian territories.

Hate crimes by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property, referred to as “price tag” attacks, are systematic and Israeli authorities rarely intervene in the violent attacks or prosecute the perpetrators.

A report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that there were at least 399 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in 2013.

The Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) monthly report stated that one Palestinian child was killed and six others Palestinians injured, four of them children, after being deliberately hit by Israeli settler vehicles in October.

Unrest has gripped annexed Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank on an almost daily basis for the past four months, flaring up after a group of Zionist settlers kidnapped and killed 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir because of his ethnicity.

Israeli authorities have also allowed Zionist settlers to take over homes in Palestinian neighborhoods both in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and announced plans to build thousands of settlements strictly for Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem while ignoring Palestinian residents.

Last month, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah slammed Israel for failing to hold Zionist settlers accountable for a recent wave of violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

"The Israeli government has never brought settlers to account for the terrorism and intimidation they commit [against Palestinians]," Hamdallah said.

More than 600,000 Israeli settlers, soaring from 189,000 in 1989, live in settlements across the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law.

HRW: Israel’s demolition of houses is a “war crime”

While Israeli settlers burn down Palestinian properties, Israeli forces demolish thousands of Palestinian houses and livelihood structures.

HRW called on Israel Saturday to stop razing the homes of Palestinians accused of attacking Israelis, saying the practice can constitute a “war crime.”

"Israel should impose an immediate moratorium on its policy of demolishing the family homes of Palestinians suspected of carrying out attacks on Israelis," the New York-based group said, as the fate of three houses slated for demolition awaits a court ruling.

"The policy, which Israeli officials claim is a deterrent, deliberately and unlawfully punishes people not accused of any wrongdoing. When carried out in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, it amounts to collective punishment, a war crime."

The East Jerusalem families of Mutaz Hijazi, Ibrahim al-Akkari, and of cousins Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal, killed by police after two separate attacks, have been served demolition orders on their homes but have appealed.

Al-Akkari, 47, was shot dead by Israeli forces after he ran over a group of Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem on November 5, killing one and injuring 13.

Hijazi was accused of shooting and critically wounding a far-right Zionist rabbi on October 29. Police shot him dead during a raid on his home in Abu Tur the following morning.

The Abu Jamal cousins, from Jabal al-Mukabbir, were shot dead Tuesday after they attacked a synagogue with meat cleavers and a pistol, killing four Zionist rabbis and an Israeli policeman.

Mohammed Mahmoud, the lawyer of the Hijazi and Abu Jamal families, said in a statement that an Israeli military court would hear their petition on Sunday morning.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces razed the East Jerusalem home of a Palestinian who killed two Israelis after running them over with his car last month.

Home demolitions have long been used as a deterrent punishment in the occupied West Bank, but this is the first time they have been adopted as a matter of policy in occupied East Jerusalem.

The practice has been condemned by human rights watchdogs and the international community as collective punishment that targets the families of perpetrators rather than the assailants themselves.

Last Sunday, Israeli rights group B'Tselem said that punitive house demolitions are "fundamentally wrong" and contravene "basic moral standards by punishing people for the misdeeds of others."

The PLO said that Israeli forces demolished at least 32 Palestinian structures, including houses, barracks, shops and stores in Jerusalem and the West Bank during the month of October.

They also gave demolition notices for five water wells and a barrack near Hebron, as well as eviction notices to 27 houses.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in 2013, Israel demolished more than 500 Palestinian homes in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

Moreover, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions estimates that Israeli authorities have demolished about 27,000 Palestinian structures in the West Bank since 1967.

The roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict date back to 1917, when the British government, in the now-famous "Balfour Declaration," called for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the holy city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Zionist state – a move never recognized by the international community.

(Ma’an, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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