High Court: IDF cannot raze home of Palestinian suspect in student’s slaying
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High Court: IDF cannot raze home of Palestinian suspect in student’s slaying

Ruling finds family of Mahmoud Atouna, accused of killing Dvir Sorek, was not aware of his actions; houses of 4 other suspects have been demolished

Dvir Sorek, 18, a yeshiva student and off-duty IDF soldier who was found stabbed to death outside a West Bank settlement on August 8, 2019. (Courtesy)
Dvir Sorek, 18, a yeshiva student and off-duty IDF soldier who was found stabbed to death outside a West Bank settlement on August 8, 2019. (Courtesy)

The High Court of Justice ordered the military to stop the planned demolition of the family home of a Palestinian man suspected of involvement in the murder of yeshiva student Dvir Sorek, 18, last year.

A panel of three judges ruled 2-1 on Monday against the demolition, saying that the family of Mahmoud Atouna did not support his actions and razing their home would have no deterrent effect.

Atouna is accused of being part of a five-man cell that grabbed Sorek as he got off a bus in the West Bank and killed him, leaving his body on the side of the road.

Sorek was a student at a hesder yeshiva, which combines Torah study with military service.

The judges ruled that Atouna’s wife and three children did not know about his actions or support them and that too much time had passed since the August 2019 attack for the demolition to have its intended effect of discouraging future attacks.

Sorek’s father, Yoav Sorek told Channel 13 news that the family has no interest in revenge, but that deterrence must be maintained.

“The house demolition policy is a matter of deterrence,” he said. “The deterrence needs to be strong and not faltering.”

Home demolitions are a controversial policy that the IDF says helps deter future terror attacks. Though 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.

Yoav Sorek, the father of murdered yeshiva student Dvir Sorek, speaks to reporters outside his home in the West Bank settlement of Ofra on August 8, 2019. (Flash90)

Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing nationalist Yamina party, responded to the ruling saying it would “weaken our deterrence.”

Bennett, until recently the defense minister but now in the opposition, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to demand a rehearing of the case.

“Over the past half a year, we dramatically increased the impact on terrorists and their surroundings, something which led to great deterrence and zero murderous attacks against Israelis,” Bennett said in a statement. “If the government doesn’t act to reverse the High Court decision it will be a message of weakness and slackness toward the terrorists, the opposite of what we did until now.”

Yamina party leader MK Naftali Bennett, at a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Betzalmo human rights organization, which has represented the Sorek family, responded to the ruling by declaring in a statement: “The High Court is responsible for the next murder. The High Court decision is a prize for the terrorists.”

The decision “shatters the last remnants of the deterrence and will cause a wave of further attacks,” the statement said and noted the organization will push for another hearing on the case.

The demolition order on Atouna’s home was issued in January 2020.

Judges Uzi Vogelman and Anat Baron were in favor of canceling the order amid concerns that, since Atouna’s family did not support him, and due to the elapsed time diminishing the deterrence effect, destroying the property would be an act of punishment against the family, which is not the intended purpose of home demolitions.

However, Judge David Mintz, in the minority opinion, argued that it cannot be predetermined what is a reasonable period of time to carry out a demolition. He also noted that the state had explained the delay as necessary to clarify the circumstances of Atouna’s involvement, given that he did not confess to being involved in the attack, as had the other members of the cell.

The IDF in November razed the homes of the four other members of the cell.

An IDF bulldozer tears down the home of a suspected terrorist in the West Bank town of Kobar on May 11, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the Haaretz newspaper, it was the first time that the High Court has canceled a demolition order due to tardiness by the state in carrying out the measure.

However, court papers showed that state prosecutors had pointed out that Vogelman and Baron had themselves two months ago approved home demolition orders for two terrorists suspected of carrying out an August 2019 bombing attack in the West Bank that killed 17-year-old Rina Shnerb. That approval was give six months after the terror attack, Haaretz noted.

The IDF destroyed the homes of Yasan Majamas and Walid Hanatsheh. In May, the army destroyed the home of another suspected member of the cell, Qassem Shibli, in the West Bank village of Kobar.

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