Whether wise or unwise, the policy of house destruction is not collective punishment and not prohibited by international law.
The policy is one of demolishing houses that were used to facilitate terrorism or owned by people who assisted terrorists. This is an economic penalty for complicity with murder. It may not be effective, since the houses are rebuilt with money provided by terrorist sympathizers, but so long as it is limited to houses that are owned by accessories to terrorism, it is not collective punishment. Moreover the concept of collective accountability for terrorism that is widely supported by the vast majority of Palestinians and their leadership is entirely consistent with law and morality.
Terrorism against innocent civilians is the ultimate form of collective punishment. Every Israeli, regardless for his or her support for opposed to particular governmental policies, is targeted for death just for being Israelis or Jews. Yet those who support Palestinian terrorism complain most loudly when a home used by a terrorist is destroyed as an economic deterrant against those who harbor terrorists.
In fact, there is collective economic punishment in international law, such as the UN approved sanctions and the bankrupting of an enemy nation's economy, which is a common weapon of both cold and hot wars.
Nations that wage aggressive war and are defeated often lose territory (see Egypt and Jordan and Syria, 1967.) Such a loss may well punish innocent residents of that territory. Many Germans, some of whom did not support Hitler, were forced to relocate following WWII. Collective punishment is a matter of degree, with the Nazi concept of Sippenhaft (the murder of kin or townsfolk, which the Palestinians practice against Israelis) at one end of the spectrum, and economic consequences of aggression at the other.
It is not wrong to make the cause itself suffer for terroristic actions committed on its behalf, especially if there is widespread support for terrorist actions within the cause. In this context, consider the 2002 poll that found 87 percent of Palestinians supported continuing terrorist attacks. Also consider http://www.turkishpress.com/world/ne...8.e2c0454z.xml
wherein it is reported that Hamas is celebrating a landslide victory in the first ever local elections in the Gaza Strip, winning 77 out of the 118 seats up for grabs.
Since these supporters hope and expect to benefit collectively from terrorism, it is just (however imperfectly just) to hold the cause collectively accountable for murderous acts perpetrated in its name and under its control. If the benign form of collective accountability can effectively save innocent lives by deterring terrorism, the balance of justice weighs in its favor.
The kind of suicide terrorism practiced by Palestinians - mass murder of perfectly innocent civilians with the widespread logistical, financial, religious, political, and emotional support of a large majority of the civilian population of Palestinians - challenges us to rethink the classic bright-line distinction between combatants and non-combatanats. This line, which lies at the core of the international law of war, has been exploited in the interest of terrorism.