High Court won’t reconsider barring home demolition of accused soldier killer

Chief Justice Hayut rejects request to hold another hearing on court decision, meaning measure won’t be implemented against Palestinian who allegedly killed Amit Ben-Ygal

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)
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)

The High Court of Justice on Thursday rejected a request to hold another hearing on its decision to bar the military from demolishing the home of a Palestinian man charged with killing an Israeli soldier.

The court in August forbade the Israel Defense Forces from demolishing the home of Nazmi Abu Bakr, who is accused of killing 21-year-old Sgt. First Class Amit Ben-Ygal by throwing a brick at him from a rooftop, as the soldier took part in an operation in the West Bank village of Yabed in May.

Following heavy criticism of the ruling by politicians and Ben-Ygal’s family, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit instructed prosecutors to file a motion for the High Court to hold another hearing on the matter.

But Chief Justice Esther Hayut rejected the request Thursday, 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 stands.

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.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 3, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

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 with Ben Ygal’s family and friends.

The High Court had canceled the planned demolition in a split decision, allowing the army to instead seal up just one room of the building.

The IDF had already begun preparations in June to demolish the home, leading the Abu Bakr family to file an appeal against the measure.

Justices Menachem Mazuz and George Kara ruled to cancel 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 on to 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.

Israeli troops search for the person who threw a brick at Sgt. First Class Amit Ben-Ygal, killing him, in the West Bank village of Yabed on May 13, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The original decision was harshly condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gantz and many ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Netanyahu called the ruling “sad” and demanded an additional hearing with an expanded panel of judges.

Ben-Ygal’s mother also lamented the decision.

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

The Shin Bet security service said in May that Abu Bakr confessed to throwing the brick that killed Ben-Ygal during the West Bank raid. 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.

The soldier was killed in the predawn hours of May 12, after the Golani Reconnaissance Battalion carried out a series of arrests in Yabed.

Home demolitions are a controversial policy that the IDF says 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. They are generally carried out before conviction.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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