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Demolition of home of deadly terror attack suspect said delayed at US request

US, which opposes punitive demolitions, sent representatives from embassy to High Court hearings where petition noting that Muntasir Shalabi was estranged from family was rejected

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

IDF troops map out the home of a Palestinian man suspected of carrying out a drive-by shooting, ahead of its potential demolition, in the West Bank village of Turmus Ayya, May 6, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF troops map out the home of Palestinian Muntasir Shalabi suspected of carrying out a deadly drive-by shooting, ahead of its potential demolition, in the West Bank village of Turmus Ayya, May 6, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has delayed the demolition of the family home of a Palestinian accused of killing an Israeli student after Washington asked for the move to be stopped, Channel 13 reported Tuesday.

Muntasir Shalabi has been charged with killing Yehuda Guetta, 19, at the Tapuah Junction in the West Bank in May. The shooting attack also injured two other Israeli teenagers, one of them seriously.

The Israel Defense Forces subsequently mapped out Shalabi’s home in the West Bank town of Turmus Ayya in preparation for demolition — a controversial punitive measure that the Israeli security establishment maintains can deter future terror attacks.

The Hamoked human rights organization filed a petition against the demolition, noting that Shalabi suffered from mental illness, had been prescribed anti-psychotic medications and had spent time in a psychiatric facility in recent years. Mental illness has in the past been used as grounds by the High Court to cancel planned demolitions.

Moreover, Hamoked noted that for 11 months of the year, Shalabi does not live in the Turmus Ayya home slated for demolition, as he is estranged from his wife and only stays in a separate room during an annual one-month visit. During the rest of the year, he resides in the US where he also has citizenship, along with a large percentage of Turmus Ayya residents. Proof of consistent residential ties in the past has been required for Israeli force to move forward with a home demolition.

Hamoked argued that Shalabi’s estranged wife and children should not lose their home as state prosecutors provided no proof that they had any knowledge of his plan to carry out an attack.

Muntasir Shalabi, suspect in a May 2, 2021, West Bank drive-by shooting, in an undated photo (Courtesy)

For its part, the state prosecution argued that Shalabi still owned the house and had even renovated it recently. As for the family’s claims of the demolition order being collective punishment, prosecutors said the need to provide a deterrent against future attacks was weightier than the need for consideration of the relatives who may have been uninvolved in the attack.

The court in June ruled unanimously against the petition, though it did not respond directly to any of the arguments presented by Hamoked.

The US, which opposes punitive home demolitions, sent representatives from its embassy to the High Court hearings on the matter, and Israeli sources told Channel 13 that they had passed along their concerns to the Israeli government, which in turn has tabled the razing.

In addition to Shalabi, the rest of his family also holds US citizenship, which was noted in the Hamoked petition.

Though the demolition has been delayed, officials are determined to eventually carry out the action even at the risk of a spat with the US, Channel 13 reported.

Yehuda Guetta, 19, was killed in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank (courtesy)

Shalabi was charged at the Judea Military Court with intentional homicide, three counts of attempted homicide, possession and use of an unlicensed weapon, and obstruction of justice.

The 47-year-old is suspected of driving to the Tapuah Junction in the northern West Bank on May 2 and opening fire at a group of Israeli students from a yeshiva in the nearby Itamar settlement. The shooting fatally wounded Guetta, seriously injured a second teenager and lightly wounded a third.

The suspect was eventually arrested following a three-day manhunt, an hour after Guetta succumbed to his injuries.

Shalabi, a father of seven, is not believed to have any affiliation with Palestinian terror groups, the Shin Bet security service has said.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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