Imagine if the American criminal justice system issued verdicts to level the homes of violent criminals. Further picture that these decisions were made outside of normal judicial channels. The practice is unthinkable in a liberal, democratic society. Why then has it reemerged as Israeli policy?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reinstated the controversial practice of bulldozing the homes of Palestinians who commit acts of terror. While the need to respond swiftly to brutal acts of violence is obvious and understandable, knocking down homes and displacing families is unfair, imprudent, and counter to the democratic principles that Israel endorses.
Much of the violence perpetrated against Israel, including the recent brutal massacre in East Jerusalem, can be attributed to intense resentment over the continued occupation - one that has now lasted for nearly 50 years. Nothing justifies butchering innocent Israelis, but given the terrorists' motivations, demolishing homes is a counterproductive policy that will only act as a catalyst for further attacks. Innocent family members--often extended family--are the ones who suffer the long-term consequences of homelessness and depravity. If feelings of oppression contribute to the radicalization of these young men, this will only fuel an already raging fire.
Moreover, Israel already faces a serious PR challenge after the issues surrounding civilian casualties in Gaza this past summer. The bombing of UN schools in particular drew international condemnation and accusations that Israel responded disproportionately and indiscriminately in Gaza. In fact, nearly 30 times as many Palestinians were killed during the 2014 Gaza war compared to Israelis - about 70% of which were civilians. Demolishing the homes of innocent civilians will create further obstacles to repairing its international image.
Finally, if Israel wants to uphold its reputation as a strong, liberal, democratic society, distributing collective punishment is a quick way to undermine that image. A fair judicial system that abides by the principles of due process is fundamental to democratic values. Not only are the decision-making channels blurred in these cases, the policy deliberately targets individuals who have not been charged with committing or abetting violence. Leveling homes solely serves to create an economic disincentive for potential terrorists or criminals who will have to weigh the livelihood of their family with their criminal decisions. Whether or not this may deter some acts of violence is irrelevant - democratic societies do not hold entire families hostage to behavior of a single individual.
There are plenty of ways to deliver severe punishment, but to demolish homes and displace families is an ill-advised, senseless way of achieving greater peace and security. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a messy one, but on both sides, knowingly punishing innocent civilians is just wrong.