Israel raids 20 homes in search for suspected Huwara gunman

Security forces in occupied West Bank prepare to demolish home of chief suspect, even though he remains at large

An Israeli security forces bulldozer arrives at a military roadblock after reports of Saturday's attack in Huwara in the occupied West Bank. AFP
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Israeli forces have “raided 20 homes” in Akraba, south of Nablus, in the occupied West Bank as the search for the suspected perpetrator of an attack in Huwara which killed two Israeli settlers on Saturday continues.

The two men were father and son, aged 60 and 29. They were found with gunshot wounds at a car wash in the city, Israel's Magen David Adom emergency service said.

The Israeli army also entered the suspect’s family home and prepared the property for punitive demolition, a controversial and long-standing policy.

Speaking to The National, the father of suspect Eissa Bani Fadhel said Israeli forces “broke down doors”.

“They told us to go downstairs – and they remained upstairs (in our home) where they began drilling and leaving marks [for the placement of explosives] on the walls.

They threatened us – either we hand over our boy or they would demolish our home. We told them we don't know where he is – and that we only know that he went out to work. They said we have three days until Sunday and then they will 'take action'.”

“It was very difficult for us – we have women and children at home … it shouldn't have involved the entire family in the immoral manner that they did it.”

“They told us that our boy is young, has his whole life ahead of him and that they don't want to hand him over to us as a dead body. So they asked us to hand him over,” his father told J-media, a Palestinian news outlet.

“We're in a tough position. But our morale is higher than ever.”

The city’s entry and exit points remain closed off by the Israeli army, the city’s governor Salah Jaber told Palestinian state news agency Wafa.

Israeli forces have also set up road blocks and military checkpoints in and around the city, he said.

The raids began about 3am on Thursday, Mr Jaber said, and involved questioning civilians and carrying out searches.

“Occupation forces have currently withdrawn to the peripheries of the city and continue to keep the entry and exit points closed,” Mr Jaber said.

The official also said the closure adversely affects the city’s economy and education as some pupils cannot reach their schools.

Looming house demolition

Israeli news outlet Kan said it was “unusual” for Israeli forces to prepare for a demolition while a suspect is at large.

The preparations include making markings on the walls of the house and drilling holes where explosives will be placed.

“This practice dates back to the British mandate and falls under Article 119 of the Emergency Regulations of 1945,” Tel Aviv-based lawyer Kais Nasser told The National.

“This procedure has been challenged dozens of times in the Israeli Supreme Court on constitutional grounds and in the field of human rights and international law – but the Supreme Court has found this process legal and it has remained in effect until today.”

Mr Nasser says Israel considers the act “a deterrent” for Palestinians from carrying out terrorist acts.

“Of course, Palestinians and human rights organisations see that justifying the law as a means of deterrence is unacceptable,” he said. “In their view, it is an arbitrary punishment that violates international law.

“This is because the demolition of the house of the suspected citizen always affects other parties that have nothing to do with the operation, such as his family, brothers, or those who live in the house.

“Also, scientifically and according to data recognised by Israel itself, the continued use of this law did not lead to a decrease in the number of attacks against the Israelis and therefore the demolition of homes according to this law is not a deterrent.”

Human rights groups see the demolition of homes as a form of collective punishment and a breach of International Humanitarian Law.

Israeli NGO B'Tselem, which documents Israeli human rights violations, said the family of a home set to be demolished has 48 hours to appeal to the military commander in charge and to the High Court of Justice (HCJ) if the appeal is denied.

The High Court “appears to view such petitions as mere formalities”, B'Tselem said in a report in 2017.

“Over the years, scores of petitions against house-demolition orders have been brought before the HCJ … yet the court denied these petitions wholesale, with the exception of rare cases and several minority opinions.”

Updated: August 25, 2023, 1:41 PM