Israeli forces on Thursday razed the homes of four Palestinian men accused of murdering a yeshiva student in an August attack, the Israel Defense Forces said.
The military said it demolished the four homes in the southern West Bank town of Beit Kahil in the predawn hours of Thursday morning after legal appeals by the families of the suspects were refused by the High Court of Justice.
“IDF forces, in cooperation with troops from the Border Police and Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, demolished the homes of the terrorists Qassem A’aref Halil Asafra, Nasir Saleh Jaber Asafra, Ahmad A’aref Halil Asafra and Yusuf Sa’id Atia Zahur in the village of Beit Kahil,” the military said.
The IDF said clashes broke out during the demolitions between troops and dozens of locals who protested the action, and rocks and tires were thrown at soldiers. The troops responded with less-lethal riot dispersal weapons.
The four men, along with a fifth, have been charged in connection with the murder of Dvir Sorek, 18, as he made his way to the West Bank religious seminary where he studied as part of a program combining military service with Jewish study. Although he was officially enlisted in the IDF, Sorek had not yet begun active military service.
Cousins Nasir Asafra, 24, and Qassem Asafra, 30, were indicted for stabbing Sorek to death. The other two, along with a fifth suspect, were indicted on terror charges in connection with the murder.
Pictures and video published in Palestinian media showed a digger being used to raze a structure in the town, and armed troops guarding heavy equipment.
فيديو آخر يوثق هدم الاحتلال لمنزل أحد الأسرى الأربعة الذين يتهمهم بتنفيذ عملية "عتصيون" في بيت كاحل شمال غرب الخليل pic.twitter.com/SKPV1znNPM
— نورة شوقي الصفدي (@nora19865) November 28, 2019
Israel says the practice of demolishing terrorists’ homes is an effective means of discouraging future attacks, though it has been criticized by human rights groups as a form of collective punishment and by some analysts as an ineffective deterrent measure.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett responded to the announcement of the home demolitions, saying that those who carry out terror attacks will be punished.
“Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that there will be no more terror, but we must exact a heavy price from anyone who raises a hand against an Israeli citizen,” he said.
Speaking to Channel 13 news, Sorek’s father Yoav said it was wrong that the razing wasn’t done sooner “when it could have strengthened deterrence and maybe stopped the next attack. The inflated caution and rights to delay via the courts ignore the fact that homes are not lives, you can rebuild them.”
Fatah responded by announcing a general strike, including educational institutions, in Beit Khahil, “for the sake of identifying with and standing alongside the fighters whose homes were destroyed by the occupation,” the Walla news site reported.
In addition, a spokesperson for Hamas said the razing of the homes was part of “ongoing racist terrorist behavior and ongoing aggression against our people.”
According to an indictment filed in October, Nasir Asafra and Qassem Asafra hatched a plan to kidnap and kill a settler. When they spotted Sorek, who was getting off a bus near Migdal Oz in the Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, they approached him in a car and stabbed him to death.
Qassem is believed to have driven the vehicle while Nasir stabbed Sorek to death.
Sorek’s body was found the next morning. The two were captured in Beit Kahil after a two-day manhunt.
Besides the two cousins, three others were indicted for helping plan and prepare for the attack.
Qassem’s wife Inas was also charged with assisting the group beforehand and after the deadly stabbing attack. The group was accused of carrying out the attack on behalf of the Hamas terror group.
The IDF had informed the families of four of the cell members that it planned to demolish their homes, and the families filed petitions with the High Court in an attempt to stop the razings.
Judah Ari Gross and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.