Israelis Propose Laws To Punish Terrorists' Families Following last week's bulldozer rampage in Jerusalem, some Israeli politicians want to pass laws that penalize families of people who launch attacks. While some Jewish lawmakers say it's necessary for Israel to toughen laws, critics say the proposals are about revenge.

Israelis Propose Laws To Punish Terrorists' Families

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Some politicians in Israel are pushing for punishment not only for those who attack Israelis but punishment for their families as well. The call to exact a higher price on the families of those who commit terrorist attacks comes in reaction to a murderous rampage in which an Arabic construction worker from East Jerusalem used a bulldozer to run down Israelis, killing three and wounding dozens.

The Israeli lawmakers want to make it so that the state would have the power to demolish the family home of the attacker, plus cut off the family's health insurance and unemployment benefits. Critics say the proposals are racist and have far more to do with revenge than justice.

From Jerusalem, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Hisham Abudaim(ph) today looks like a haunted man. Rail thin and tense, he smokes incessantly, his eyes seemingly lost in thought. In March, his son Allah murdered eight young Jewish students in an assault on a prominent yeshiva or religious school. Four months later, Hisham 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 Jabu Mukabbar(ph). Five branches of the Abudaim family live in the large home, including scores of children.

Mr. HISHAM ABUDAIM: (Through translator) Whoever carries out such acts of vindictiveness does not think about the consequences or the impact on the family. 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.

WESTERVELT: Asked if he thinks his son thought through the consequences of the deadly attack on his own family and those of the victims, Hisham Abudaim looks up at the ceiling and pauses for a long time. What he did is still a huge shock to us, he says finally, adding, my son used to act like a very normal person.

The yeshiva attack and last week's bulldozer rampage in Jerusalem have renewed Israeli fears of an Arab threat from within. Both were carried out by Palestinian residents of predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. Not long after news broke of the bulldozer attack, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for the family home of the attacker to be demolished and for state benefits for the family to be revoked as a deterrent to other would-be attackers.

Deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament Yuli Edelstein(ph) with the opposition Likud Party, agrees with the prime minister.

Mr. YULI EDELSTEIN (Deputy Speaker, Israeli Parliament): Everyone who will consider acts of such nature would know that at least he's not only damaging the victims of his attack, he's also damaging his own family.

WESTERVELT: Edelstein has proposed legislation that is gaining 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.

Mr. EDELSTEIN: The message is clear: it's not only about you; it's 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.

WESTERVELT: After capturing the area in the 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move 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, unemployment and other benefits. After the bulldozer attack, Parliament member Nissan Slomenenski(ph) of the right-wing National Union national religious party said, quote, "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," unquote.

His party has proposed several bills that would crack down on family members of those who commit terrorist acts. For many Arabs on the east side, the attacks this year and the Israeli reactions to them have only reinforced their uneasiness living in a kind of political limbo between the West Bank Palestinians and Israel.

Mr. ZIAD HAMMOURI (Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights): East Jerusalem is an occupied area. It has to be the capital of our independent estates.

WESTERVELT: Ziad al-Hammouri heads the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights. He says the Israeli response to the attacks has fueled fears among Palestinians that Israel is trying to push more Arab families out of East Jerusalem.

Mr. HAMMOURI: We want our own city to retain back to the Palestinian Authority. The only solution for East Jerusalem is to end the occupation. This is the only solution.

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

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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