May 7, 2012
Ehud Barak, Israel's increasingly hawkish defence minister, approved an intelligence recommendation to demolish the houses of Hakim and Ajmad Awad, two cousins from the Palestinian village of Awarta.
The decision, the first of its kind in nearly seven years, will render the wives and children of both men homeless.
The two Palestinians are serving life sentences for the murders of Ehud and Ruth Fogel, as well as three of their six children, in the West Bank settlement of Itamar in March, 2011.
The dead included a three-month-old infant and a four-year-old boy stabbed to death in a frenzied attack that horrified Israel.
The Israeli authorities abandoned the once common practice of punitive demolitions in 2005 after facing heavy international criticism.
The recommendation to resurrect the policy was made by Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security agency, which justified the move on the grounds that the two families of the two men had destroyed evidence relevant to the case.
The agency said it would also discourage "potential terrorists" from mounting similar attacks, a sentiment echoed by Yaakov Perry, the former head of Shin Bet.
"This is one of the most brutal terrorist attacks ever and the Shin Bet thinks that the demolition is a punitive step that may deter other terrorists from carrying out such tragic crimes," he told Israel's Army Radio.
But human rights groups condemned the decision, which still has to be ratified by legal advisers to the Israeli government.
"The perpetrators have already been arrested and convicted," said Jeff Halper, the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. "If they demolish the houses this is a case of collective punishment which is illegal under both Israeli and international law as it is against the Fourth Geneva Convention."
The decision also attracted criticism from within the Israeli Defence Forces, with opponents warning that it could be interpreted as an act of vengeance that would increase tensions in the West Bank, which has been largely peaceful since the murders.
With Israelis poised to go to the polls in September other critics accused Mr Barak of naked electioneering, suggesting that he had succumbed to pressure from the settler lobby to avenge the deaths.
Mr Halper said the fact that so many months had elapsed since the cousins were convicted was an indication that the defence minister was acting for political gain rather than on the basis of military rationale.
"It makes no sense from a military logic," he said. "On the contrary, things have been very quiet since then. It is political logic as we are getting close to elections and the setter lobby has more clout now and is pressing the political echelons in terms of revenge."