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After court blocks demolition, IDF to seal room of alleged Palestinian killer

With judges stymying plan to demolish entire building, military tells family of Nazmi Abu Bakr, suspected in soldier’s killing, that it will fill his room with concrete

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli troops measure the home of a Palestinian man suspected of killing a soldier with a brick, in the West Bank village of Yabed on June 11, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops measure the home of a Palestinian man suspected of killing a soldier with a brick, in the West Bank village of Yabed on June 11, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday informed the family of a Palestinian man suspected of killing a soldier, Amit Ben-Ygal, that it plans to seal off the room in which he lived, the military said.

The army had initially intended to destroy the entire building, but was twice blocked by the High Court of Justice, which cited the fact that the rest of the family was unaware of and uninvolved in Nazmi Abu Bakr’s alleged crime and thus should not have their home destroyed.

Instead, the military will seal off Abu Bakr’s room and fill it with concrete.

“The decision to seal off the room in which the terrorist lived was made in accordance with the ruling of the High Court, which canceled the confiscation and demolition order that had been issued against the terrorist’s house,” the IDF said.

Sgt. First Class Amit Ben-Ygal, who was killed when a rock was thrown at his head during an arrest raid in the northern West Bank village of Yabed on May 12, 2020. (Social media)

Abu Bakr is suspected of throwing a brick that struck Ben-Ygal in the head, killing him, from the roof of his family’s home, while the 21-year-old soldier was taking part in a raid in the West Bank village of Yabed on May 12.

Israeli security forces arrested Abu Bakr a few weeks later. In June, the military told his family it planned to demolish the home.

The Shin Bet security service said in May that Abu Bakr confessed to throwing the brick that killed Ben-Ygal. He was arrested along with several other people who were believed to have been in the building at the time, and confessed several weeks later, according to the security agency.

Abu Bakr’s family took the case to the High Court this summer. In August, the court ruled — in a two-to-one decision — that the military could not raze the home.

Nazmi Abu Bakr, 49, is suspected of throwing the rock that killed IDF soldier Amit Ben Ygal (Shin Bet)

Justices Menachem Mazuz and George Kara issued the ruling against the demolition, reasoning that Abu Bakr’s wife and eight children, who were not involved in the attack, still live there.

Justice Yael Willner was in favor of carrying out the measure so that it could serve its purpose as a deterrence against future attacks on Israeli forces operating in the West Bank.

Mazuz wrote that “the serious harm done to innocent family members cannot be ignored — those to whom no involvement in the attack is attributed.”

Kara, agreeing with Mazuz, wrote that “justice will come to the attacker when he gets his punishment. But the consequences of his actions should not be cast onto those who have not sinned.”

Willner, meanwhile, cited “the seriousness of the act… its fatal and serious consequence,” as well as “the use made of the structure where the attack was carried out,” to argue the order to demolish the home was proportional.

The ruling drew heavy criticism from politicians and Ben-Ygal’s family and renewed a public debate on the practice of home demolitions. The military maintains that razing terrorists’ homes helps deter future terror attacks. Over the years, a number of Israeli defense officials have questioned the efficacy of the practice and human rights activists have denounced it as unfair collective punishment. Demolitions are generally carried out well before a conviction.

The High Court’s ruling against the demolition drew heavy criticism from politicians and Ben-Ygal’s family. Ben-Ygal’s mother lamented the decision.

“My son was killed again today,” Nava Revivo told Channel 12 news at the time. “Amit won’t come back, but God forbid the same thing will happen to the next soldiers.”

Nava Revivo, center, mother of late IDF soldier Amit Ben-Ygal, cries at his funeral at the cemetery in Be’er Ya’akov, May 12, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Ten days after the ruling, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit instructed prosecutors to file a motion for the High Court to hold another hearing on the matter.

Last week, Chief Justice Esther Hayut rejected the request, saying that even assuming a mistake in the interpretation of the law had been made in the original decision, a repeat hearing can only be called if new legislation is passed, changing the legal situation.

Since no new law has been passed on the subject of demolishing attackers’ homes, Hayut ruled that the original decision stood.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut, at the Supreme Court on May 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The request, formally filed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the IDF commander in charge of the West Bank, argued that the High Court decision had set an unreasonable legal precedent, not grounded in the law, that home demolitions should be scaled down if the attacker’s family wasn’t involved or aware of his or her actions.

But Hayut said the family’s level of involvement has long been cited in court rulings as one of the many considerations that can be weighed when determining whether a particular demolition does more good than harm. She said the ruling hadn’t set a precedent and was in line with previous decisions.

Hayut concluded her ruling by expressing sympathy for Ben-Ygal’s family and friends.

Michael Bachner and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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