IDF to raze home of 13-year-old Palestinian charged for killing Border Police officer

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The Israeli military on Friday informed the family of Muhammad Bassel Fathi Zalbani, a 13-year-old Palestinian charged with killing a Border Police officer earlier this year, that their home is slated for demolition.

On February 13, Zalbani stabbed 22-year-old Staff Sgt. Asil Sawaed on a bus at a checkpoint near East Jerusalem’s Shuafat Refugee Camp. The teenager has since been charged with aggravated murder and is expected to be placed in a juvenile detention center, due to his age.

The Israel Defense Forces on Friday said it had notified his family of the military’s intention to seize and later demolish their home in the Shuafat Refugee Camp.

Israel regularly demolishes the homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out deadly attacks as a matter of policy. The efficacy of the policy has been hotly debated, even within the Israeli security establishment, while human rights activists denounce the practice as unjust collective punishment.

Zalbani’s family can still appeal the decision to raze the home to Israel’s High Court of Justice. But such attempts rarely succeed, though in some cases the court can limit the demolition order to only the parts of the house used by the accused attacker.

In general, the demolition process takes several months, as the home needs to be mapped out, the High Court must address appeals by the family, and security forces often wait an optimal time to enter Palestinian cities or neighborhoods for the operation.

Staff Sgt. Asil Sawaed, who died February 13, 2023, after he was stabbed by a Palestinian and shot by a comrade in East Jerusalem. (Israel Police)

Since Zalbani’s home is in East Jerusalem, the demolition itself will likely be carried out by Israel Police. The seizure and demolition order for the home will be signed in the coming weeks by the head of the IDF’s Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Rafi Milo, as he is the relevant officer within Israeli territory, including East Jerusalem.

According to the indictment filed at the District Juvenile Court in Jerusalem on February 23, Zalbani, a resident of the Shuafat Refugee Camp, found a knife as he was leaving the building in which he lives, and allegedly decided to commit the attack.

Zalbani took a bus heading into Jerusalem that passes through a checkpoint, where he sought to attack security forces. The indictment said the teen sat at the back of the bus, placed the knife near his leg to be able to draw it quickly, and waited for security forces to board for a routine inspection.

Sawaed boarded the bus and began to question the passengers heading into Jerusalem. When he reached the back of the bus, Zalbani pulled out the knife and stabbed Sawaed in the head and neck multiple times, according to the indictment.

A civilian security officer who had boarded the bus with Sawaed opened fire at the teen attacker, but one of the shots hit the Border Police officer in the thigh. Zalbani was not hit by the gunfire, and was detained.

Sawaed died en route to the hospital from wounds caused by the stabbing and gunfire.

Zalbani was charged with a terrorist act of aggravated murder, among other charges.

Sawaed, from the northern Bedouin village of Hussniyya, was a noncommissioned officer in the force after completing his mandatory service.

A knife used in a Palestinian stabbing attack against Border Police officers on a bus at the entrance to Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem, February 13, 2023. (Israel Police)

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been high for the past year, with the Israeli military conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank, in the wake of a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 20 people and left several more seriously hurt.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 116 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during that span, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

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