Israeli Leaders Bash Court for Blocking Home Demolition of Palestinian Charged in Soldier's Murder

High Court justices cite violations of 'property rights and human dignity' in granting petition by the family, but Netanyahu decries 'miserable ruling'

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An IDF soldier during the arrest of Nizmi Abu Bakr in the West Bank village of Yabad, in June.
An IDF soldier during the arrest of Nizmi Abu Bakr in the West Bank village of Yabad, in June.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The High Court of Justice revoked a demolition order for the family home of a Palestinian charged with murdering Israeli soldier Amit Ben Ygal in the West Bank in May, drawing harsh criticism from several right-wing politicians.

Supreme Court Justices Menachem Mazuz and George Karra granted the petition filed by Nizmi Abu Bakr’s family that challenged the order. The two justices wrote that the demolition of the family home would “involve serious damage to a number of basic rights, including property rights and human dignity, and a number of rights derived from human dignity.” Justice Yael Willner, in a minority opinion, said the demolition order should stand.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the High Court’s decision “a miserable ruling” and demanded that the court hold another hearing on the matter, with an expanded  panel of judges. "We cannot give a tailwind to terrorism," he said.

Mazuz wrote that the petitioners, Abu Bakr’s wife and eight children, are not accused of any involvement in Abu Bakr’s alleged “malicious actions – not in aiding, knowing his intentions to take action and not even in supporting his acts after the fact. The attacker himself was caught and is on trial, and he is expected to serve a long term of imprisonment, if he is convicted. This means that the damage to the house first and foremost constitutes harm to his wife and children who were left to live in the house." Its demolition, he wrote, "would leave them without a roof over their heads,” wrote Mazuz.

Karra addressed the home demolition policy more generally, calling it perplexing that the policy remains in place, in reliance of assessments in the security establishment that it acts as a deterrence, without an in-depth and substantive discussion of the  basic principles that it represents. “The continued use of this tool, which brings with it severe harm to the innocent, represents collective punishment,” Karra wrote.

In her minority opinion, Willner wrote: “The waves of terrorism hitting Israel in recent years require effective deterrence against more terror attacks in the future. Given this, making use of the authority granted to the military commander in Regulation 119 [which authorizes home demolitions] for the purpose of deterrence, as stated, is an unfortunate necessity. This is in spite of the difficulty that is of course involved in the damage to the property of members of the family who were uninvolved in the criminal acts of their family member, the attacker,” Willner stated.

Abu Bakr lived in an apartment on the third floor of the building along with the petitioners, who are his wife and eight children. The building is owned jointly by Abu Bakr and his brothers, who also petitioned the High Court and also live in the building, along with their families.

The demolition order was for the third floor alone, where Abu Bakr lived. An engineering report from the IDF said there was a “low probability that the demolition would cause structural damage to the building, and if such damage were caused, it would be minor.” The IDF engineers also said there is a low risk of non-structural damage to nearby buildings – but if such damage was caused, it would also be minor. It is also unlikely, according to the report, that nearby electrical infrastructure would suffer damage.

In response to the decision, Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted: "Of course we will respect the High Court's ruling, but a ruling that rescinds a demolition order for the home of the terrorist who killed Amit Ben Ygal is truly regrettable. Home demolitions for deterrence purposes are an important tool in the fight against terror. Therefore, I have instructed Defense Ministry professionals to speak to the attorney general to request an additional hearing on the ruling."  

Referring to the general public, Yamina party MK Bezalel Smotrich tweeted after the decision that “Mazuz and Karra are endangering the lives of each and every one of you. Property rights of terrorists and their families are more important to them than all our lives. It is extremely insane and outrageous and must be fundamentally dealt with at the root in the out-of-touch and distorted morality that a small and unelected group imposes on us by force. They have simply stolen our country,” he wrote.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin said: “The High Court of Justice or the hall of warped morality? A great many Israelis are demanding a proper legal system. We will continue to fight until we bring back morality and justice to the court."

Jessica Montell, Executive Director of HaMoked, an Israeli human rights organization that petitioned the court along with Abu Bakr's family, welcomed the decision "which saves a mother and her eight children, against whom there are no allegations of wrongdoing, from being made homeless. However, the court should have ruled against the whole policy of punitive demolitions as an illegal collective punishment, with doubtful effectiveness as a deterrent, even according to the military. It is long past time to end this barbaric practice, which contradicts the basic principles of justice.”

Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman tweeted saying that the right wing "is railing against the High Court of Justice, because this time it halted the demolition of a home in which a Palestinian woman lives with her eight children. The atrocious policy of home demolitions is a combination of collective punishment and a feeling of vengeance. This policy has no value in promoting the security of civilians. The High Court's ruling is correct – but home demolitions won't end until the occupation ends."

Abu Bakr is charged with murdering the 21-year-old Ben Ygal in the town of Yabad in the northern West Bank, near Jenin. The indictment states that Abu Bakr was in his apartment on the top floor of the three-story building in which he lived with his family. At around 4:30 A.M., he heard shouting from his neighbors’ home and went up to the roof. At first, he allegedly stood on the eastern part of the roof, listened to the shouting from the direction of his neighbor’s home and realized security forces were carrying out arrests. Then he noticed two columns of soldiers and decided to throw a large brick off the roof at them. The brick hit Ben Ygal on the head, killing him, according to the indictment.

Abu Bakr is also charged with obstructing justice for allgedly pretending to be asleep following the killing and hiding the broken pieces of the brick. Prosecutors have requested that he remain in detention until the end of the proceedings against him, and said the indictment is largely based on his confession.

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