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Israeli leader calls for demolition of homes belonging to Palestinian 'arsonists'

Nov. 26, 2016 9:11 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 27, 2016 3:23 P.M.)
An Israeli soldier stands guard as an army bulldozer with a demolition permit pulls down the house of a Palestinian family near the West Bank town of Hebron on Jan. 20, 2015. (AFP/Hazem Bader, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called on Saturday for the demolition of homes of any Palestinian found guilty of arson, according to Israeli media.

Several Israeli news sites quoted Erdan as saying that “if you can demolish a home of a terrorist who opens fire or stabs, then you should demolish the home of nationally motivated arsonist as well. There is no difference.”

According to a statement released Saturday by the spokeswoman of the Israeli police, Luba al-Samri, at least 23 Palestinian “suspects” have been detained over suspicions of arson or “incitement,” adding that Israeli police have so far questioned some 30 “suspected arsonists.”

The mass fire ripping through Israel first erupted in Haifa and saw tens of thousands of residents forced to flee their homes, while wildfires also spread across the occupied West Bank, from the northern district of Nablus to Hebron in the southern West Bank.

Israeli authorities have claimed that the fires were started by "political arson" against the Israeli state. However, other sources have said the fires were likely caused by a combination of extreme winds and a drought.

Meanwhile, other critics have claimed that Israeli politicians were quick to blame Palestinians for the fires as a political maneuver to further convince the international community of Palestinian hostility toward the Israeli state.

One Israeli journalist, Meron Rapoport, wrote for Middle East Eye that “the wave of fires has certainly shown how ready the Israeli leadership is to use any opportunity to portray the Palestinian minority as the enemy within, without waiting for evidence or even trying to pretend that it seeks cooperation with its 1.5 million Arab citizens.”

On Thursday, according to the Times of Israel, Israel’s ultra right Education Minister Naftali Bennett used the occasion to point blame at Palestinians for the devastating fire, saying that “only someone who this land does not belong to would be capable of setting fire to it,” implying both that Palestinians were responsible for the fires and that Palestinians do not have any attachment to the land in Israel, from where some 700,000 Palestinians were displaced during the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Other Israeli leaders have also added to the chorus, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating on Thursday that any Palestinian guilty of arson would have their Israeli residency revoked.

Meanwhile, the Joint List -- the Israeli parliament coalition representing Palestinian citizens of Israel -- and the Fatah movement in the occupied West Bank condemned Palestinians who have celebrated the fires as revenge over the threat of banning the use of loudspeakers to broadcast the adhan -- the Muslim call to prayer -- in Israel, while Palestinian civil defense crews have provided reinforcement in order to assist Israel in controlling the fires in Haifa and Jerusalem.

Israeli forces routinely carry out punitive home demolitions on families of Palestinians who have attacked or believed to have attacked Israeli civilians or military personnel, as Netanyahu fast-tracked punitive home demolitions in an effort to “deter” attacks carried out by Palestinian individuals in the wake of a wave of violence that has swept across the West Bank since last October.

The move came despite past recommendations by an Israeli military committee that the practice did not deter attacks. Israeli rights group B’Tselem has condemned the practice as "court-sanctioned revenge" carried out on family members who have not committed crimes, amounting to collective punishment.

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