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Israel: Supreme Court Approves Demolition of Terrorist Home

(Apr. 3, 2009) On March 18, 2009, the Supreme Court of Israel approved the demolition of the house of a suicide terrorist who killed three and injured scores of random Israeli passersby on a main street in Jerusalem. He committed the attack by deliberately using a heavy bulldozer, running over anybody who happened to be in its path. Following the attack, the Minister of Defense and the Home Front Commander decided to implement their authority under Regulation No. 119 of the Defence [sic] Emergency Regulations, 1945 to partially destroy the attacker's house. These Regulations were initially imposed by the British Mandate over Palestine and continue to apply within Israel and the West Bank, subject to some modifications.

The terrorist's father petitioned the Supreme Court to prevent the partial demolition, based on his ownership of the house and his claim that there was insufficient proof that his son's actions were committed for terrorist ideological motives. He further argued that the demolition would unreasonably and unproportionatly affect him and his family. In response, the military authorities argued that the partial demolition was based on the need to deter others from following the terrorist's actions, especially when there is a rise in terrorist activity among residents of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The respondents further noted that the petitioner had utilized his appeal option before a final decision was reached, and that the decision that was finally reached was based on the opinion of expert engineers. In accordance with this opinion, it was determined that it was possible to destroy the area where the son had resided without endangering other parts of the house.

Writing for the Court's unanimous decision, Justice Edmond Levi rejected the petition and held that the Defence Emergency Regulations, 1945 were still in force in the absence of more up-to-date legislation, but they should be implemented only to the extent appropriate and for a suitable reason. He held that these requirements were met in the present case. Accepting the respondents' argument that house demolitions have a deterring effect on future potential terrorists and thus contribute to saving lives, the Justice approved the goal of deterrence as appropriate. Regarding the claimed inappropriateness of the impact on the attacker's family members, the Court cites an earlier decision recognizing that “the chance that a destruction of a house, or its blockage, will prevent future bloodshed forces us to harden the heart and pity the lives of people who may fall victims to horrible acts of attacks, more than it is appropriate to pity the residents of the house. There is no other way.” The Court recognizes that its judgment does not exempt security forces and the courts in the future from examining each case on its own merits, to determine the appropriate extent of a house demolition. (H.C. 124/09 Taisir Duiait v. Minister of Defense and Commander of the Home Front Command, the State of Israel Judicial Authority website [in Hebrew], (last visited Mar. 18, 2009); Aviad Glikman, The Supreme Court: The Home of the Terrorist of the Tractor's Attack Will Be Demolished [in Hebrew], YNET NEWS, Mar. 18, 2009, available at,7340,L-3688466,00.html.)