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Sealing a Room at a Palestinian Family's Home With Concrete? For Israel, It's 'Urgent Security Needs'

Amira Hass
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The Abu Bakr kids: Islam, Nasrallah, Aisha, Mohamed and Monjid.
The Abu Bakr kids: Islam, Nasrallah, Aisha, Mohamed and Monjid.Credit: Nidal Shtayah
Amira Hass

On October 21, early Wednesday morning, IDF soldiers sealed a room in a meager three-room apartment in Yabed, where Suheila Abu Bakr and her eight children live. The oldest is 19, the youngest almost two. To seal a room means to fill it with concrete. The sealing was done with the permission of the High Court of Justice.

Two cement mixers entered the al-Salame neighborhood backed up by dozens of military vehicles. According to the ruling of Supreme Court justices Menachem Mazuz and George Karra, the soldiers were supposed to pump the concrete into only one room. But the undisciplined concrete spilled over and blocked the hallway too, the bathroom and part of the kitchen. Young people from the extended family worked for a long time and removed the hardening concrete from the parts of the apartment that the honorable justices allowed the family to continue using.

The father, Nazmi Abu Bakr, is charged with murdering IDF soldier Amit Ben Yigal. On May 12, Ben Yigal returned with his comrades from a routine operation to make arrests in the village of Yabed. They marched on the narrow road that leads to the military base in the settlement of Dotan. At least two of the four people arrested that same night were marched along with them. The Abu Bakr home stands at the beginning of the road. Young people from the neighborhood threw rocks at them. There was shouting.

The indictment was filed on June 25. It stated that Abu Bakr threw a brick from the roof of the building on Ben Yigal. In other words, according to what we learned in our civics classes in grade school, Nazmi Abu Bakr is presumed to be innocent because he has still not yet been proven guilty. But not in the only democratic Jewish state in the world. We act according to Regulation No. 119 of the Emergency Regulations from 1945 of the British Mandate, and these allow the military governor to confiscate a structure and demolish it if he suspects it was used to commit a crime. In other words, to punish before the trial and punish the many for a crime attributed to only one person.

Those demanding immediate revenge came out partially satisfied. They were angry at the merciful justices Mazuz and Karra, who heard the petition against the demolition and ruled on August 10 that the entire apartment should not be demolished, but it was permissible to seal one of its rooms. Justice Yael Willner, in a minority opinion, favored allowing the demolition of the entire apartment. Demolishing the apartment on the third floor would not only have deprived the children and their mother of a roof over their heads, but also could have destroyed the two floors below – where the families of Nazmi Abu Bakr’s brothers live – or caused them irreparable damage. That is why the family and the village lauded the majority decision of the High Court.

The Abu Bakr family, left to right: Eman, Islam, Nasrallah, Suhaila (the mother), Israa, Aisha, Mohamed and Monjid.
The Abu Bakr family, left to right: Eman, Islam, Nasrallah, Suhaila (the mother), Israa, Aisha, Mohamed and Monjid.Credit: Nidal Shtayah

But there is something in common between those demanding revenge and the honorable justices: They all convicted the 49-year-old Abu Bakr before a verdict was reached. In opposing the demolition, Mazuz and Karra repeatedly called Abu Bakr the “assailant.” Mazuz wrote that “the act attributed to the assailant is a serious and contemptible crime.” If it is still only attributed to him, then why conclude already that he is an “assailant?” Karra treated the indictment as an accepted fact. In other words, the Shin Bet – upon which the military prosecution has relied for the drafting of the indictment – decided that the man is guilty, and Karra accepted this as a decree from the heavens. All that’s left for the military judges to do, according to Karra, is decide on the sentence: “The measure of the law will be carried out for the assailant [and] he will receive his punishment. But the consequences of his actions should not be imposed on those who have not sinned.”

To the justices’ credit, it must be said that they did not even pretend that Abu Bakr would receive a fair trial. Karra actually thought it necessary to revoke the confiscation and demolition order for the apartment, but fell into line with Mazuz and agreed to the sealing of the bedroom of the father, his wife and a few of the children. In the spirit of their recommendation, the head of IDF Central Command changed the original confiscation and demolition order for the apartment, and on October 13 signed a confiscation and sealing order for one room “because urgent military needs require it.”

At the start of September, I visited the Abu Bakr extended family. Members told me about their arrest since the night Ben Yigal was killed and the interrogations they underwent, with all the intimidation and humiliations involved. Suheila, 45, was also arrested and investigated, as well as her daughter Iman. “It was the hardest thing for me,” said the mother, “to be taken for detention and investigation when my children were left behind, alone.”

Until that night, said family members, they had never had friction with the army – which often passed under their house when they returned from raids in the village, and on their way back to their base in the settlement. A few family members worked in Israel, as did Nazmi Abu Bakr, until the coronavirus arrived. Since then he has made his living from odd jobs and the plot of land under their house, which has olive trees, a vegetable garden and a goose coop. Some of the children liked to help him there, especially with the geese.

Urgent military needs required that from now on, eight children will grow up in the shadow of a hunk of concrete that seals off the bedroom. The High Court of Justice ruled that this was a proportionate act.

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