Israelis Propose Laws To Punish Terrorists' Families

House of Hisham Abu Dhaim i i

The house of Hisham Abu Dhaim, whose son murdered eight young Jewish students in March. Abu Dhaim says calls to punish his family by demolishing his house are extremist and wrong. Eric Westervelt/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Westervelt/NPR
House of Hisham Abu Dhaim

The house of Hisham Abu Dhaim, whose son murdered eight young Jewish students in March. Abu Dhaim says calls to punish his family by demolishing his house are extremist and wrong.

Eric Westervelt/NPR

The two deadly attacks in the Holy City so far this year were carried out by Palestinians who lived in East Jerusalem, renewing Israeli fears of a threat "from within."

The attacks also have sparked some Israeli politicians to propose new laws and actions that would exact a higher price on the families of those who commit terrorist acts, including home demolitions and exclusion of social benefits.

Last week saw a lethal and bizarre attack in which an Arab construction worker from East Jerusalem with a criminal record and a history of drug abuse killed three people and wounded dozens in a bulldozer rampage in a busy stretch of West Jerusalem.

Soon after the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for tough action against families of such "terrorists" as a deterrent to would-be attackers.

"If we have to destroy houses then we must do so, and if we have to stop their social benefits, we must do so," Olmert told attendees of an economic conference in Eilat soon after the attack.

Yuli Edelstein, the deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, and a member of the opposition Likud party, agrees with the prime minister. He's proposed legislation to back up the idea.

"Everyone who will consider acts of such nature would know that he's not only damaging the victims of his attack; he's also damaging his own family," Edelstein said.

The deputy speaker's proposed legislation is gaining support and momentum: It would revoke the identity permits of East Jerusalem residents and revoke citizenship of anyone in Israel who carries out a terrorist attack or is an active member of a terrorist group, thus cutting off any state benefits to his or her family.

"The message is clear: It's not only about you, not only about your evil desire to sacrifice yourself. It can also hurt your family, it can also hurt your children, it can also hurt your house," Edelstein said.

Israeli Response Fuels Fear Among Arabs

After capturing the area in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move that's not recognized internationally. Most of the 240,000 Arabs in the east side have rejected the notion of Israeli citizenship out of solidarity with fellow Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. East Jerusalem Arabs cannot vote in parliamentary elections; they are not issued Israeli passports.

But in contrast to West Bank Palestinians, they do have blue Israeli identity cards that give them wide freedom of movement within Israel and access to health care and unemployment and other benefits.

After the bulldozer attack, parliament member Nissan Slomiansky of the right-wing National Union-National Religious Party said, "There is a limit to how far democracy goes. It's shocking that a person is given a blue ID card and he uses it to carry out terror attacks."

His party has proposed several bills that would crack down on the families of perpetrators of attacks.

Many Palestinians in Jerusalem say the Israeli reactions reek of vengeance and racism and have only reinforced their uneasiness living in a kind of political limbo between the West Bank Palestinians and Israel.

"East Jerusalem is an occupied area. It has to be the capital of our independent state," said Ziad al-Hammouri, director of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights.

Hammouri called Israeli proposals to get tough with family members of attackers racist, vindictive and part of a long-standing pattern of Israeli discrimination against Arab East Jerusalemites. He said the discrimination includes substandard sewer, garbage and other basic municipal services and the razing of Arab homes that were built without proper permits.

"The demolishing of houses didn't stop through the last 30 to 40 years. The confiscating of the ID cards didn't stop. The economical pressure on the Palestinians didn't stop. All of these pressures on Arab residents of East Jerusalem have continued," Hammouri said.

Hammouri says the legislative push to try to punish families of terrorists is misguided. The real issue is the disputed status of the Holy City, he argues, not whether the widow of a murderer gets health insurance.

"We want our own city to return back to the Palestinian Authority. The only solution for East Jerusalem is to end the occupation. This is the only solution," he said.

Punishing Innocent People?

In March, Hisham Abu Dhaim's son Alaa murdered eight young Jewish students in an assault on a prominent yeshiva, or religious school, and then was killed himself. Today, Abu Dhaim looks like a haunted man. Rail thin and tense, he smokes incessantly, his eyes seemingly lost in thought.

Four months after the attack, Abu Dhaim had hoped the worst days might be behind him.

But that was before last week's bulldozer attack revived calls in Israel to seal off or demolish his family's home in the East Jerusalem area of Jabel Mukaber. Five branches of the Abu Dhaim family live in the large home, including scores of children.

Right-wing Israeli activists and some politicians say failure to carry out threats to destroy the family's home in the wake of legal appeals "invited" the bulldozer rampage.

Abu Dhaim says the new calls to punish the family are extremist and wrong.

"Whoever carries out such acts of vindictiveness does not think about the consequences or the impact on the family," he says. "Here you are talking about punishing innocent people who are in the middle of this mess. These Israeli threats are only compounding our pain, our anguish."

Asked if he thinks his son thought through the consequences of the deadly attack on his own family and those of the victims, Abu Dhaim looks up at the ceiling and pauses for a long time.

"What he did is still a huge shock to us," he says, adding, "My son used to act like a very normal person. We had no idea."

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