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IDF demolishes home of Esther Horgen’s suspected killer in rare daytime op

Security forces destroy two floors of building where Muhammad Mruh Kabha lived; High Court permitted razing after he confessed to terror attack

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

IDF troops map out the home of a Palestinian man suspected in the murder of Esther Horgen, ahead of its potential demolition, in the West Bank village of Tura, near Jenin, December 24, 2020 (IDF video screenshot)
IDF troops map out the home of a Palestinian man suspected in the murder of Esther Horgen, ahead of its potential demolition, in the West Bank village of Tura, near Jenin, December 24, 2020 (IDF video screenshot)

Israeli security forces on Wednesday conducted a rare daylight demolition of the northern West Bank home of a Palestinian man who confessed to killing Esther Horgen in a terror attack late last year, the military said.

The move came a week after the High Court of Justice gave the Israel Defense Forces the go-ahead to destroy the two floors of a building in which the suspect, Muhammad Mruh Kabha, lived in the village of Tura al-Gharbiya, near Jenin.

On December 20, Horgen, 52, a mother of six, went for a hike in the Reihan forest, near her home in the Tal Menashe settlement. Kabha, who had been waiting in the area for a potential victim to pass by, ran after her and knocked her to the ground. Horgen tried to fight him off but he pinned her down and then repeatedly hit her over the head with large rocks, causing her to bleed and breaking bones in her arms and chest, until she stopped moving, according to the indictment against him that was filed last Thursday.

Horgen’s body was found in the early hours of the next morning after her husband, Benjamin, reported her missing.

Esther Horgen, 52, was killed in a suspected West Bank terror attack on December 20, 2020. (Courtesy)

On Wednesday afternoon, the IDF said that its troops — assisted by the Border Police — had begun destroying the two floors in which Kabha lived with his family.

It is very uncommon for the military to perform a home demolition during the daytime, preferring instead to operate late at night or early in the morning, when residents of the area are less likely to protest or interfere.

Photographs from the scene that were shared on social media showed armed Israeli troops spread throughout Tura al-Gharbiya to protect the combat engineers performing the demolition.

It was not immediately explained why the IDF chose to conduct the operation in the daytime.

The military first announced its intention to demolish the two floors where Kabha lived last month, but his family appealed to the High Court of Justice to prevent the move.

A panel of three judges upheld the military’s plan, saying that although he had yet to be convicted, Kabha had admitted to committing the crime and there was “strong, external, objective evidence” to corroborate his confession.

Muhammad Mruh Kabha, 40, from the Palestinian village of Tura al-Gharbiya, is suspected of murdering Esther Horgen of the Tal Menashe settlement on December 20, 2020. (Shin Bet)

According to the Shin Bet security agency, Kabha is suspected of carrying out the terror attack as a form of vengeance for the death of a security prisoner, Kamel Abu Waer, who died of cancer six weeks before.

However, Justice Anat Baron wrote a minority opinion that said only one of the two floors could be destroyed.

Baron maintained that destroying the second floor of the building, where Kabha’s wife and three children live, would be disproportionate as they were not involved in the attack, had no knowledge of it, and did not show any support for the killing after the event.

The IDF argued that destroying the two floors was necessary as a deterrent against future attacks by other terrorists.

Israel defends the practice of razing the family home of attackers as a deterrent against future assaults and officials have argued that speed is essential, claiming that the deterrent factor degrades over time. A number of Israeli defense officials have questioned the efficacy of the practice over the years and human rights activists have denounced it as unfair collective punishment.

Baron also challenged the military on that point.

“I have not found any basis for stating that the demolition of terrorists’ homes achieves a real deterrent to terrorist acts, and perhaps the opposite,” she wrote in her dissent.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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