Kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir
|Kidnapping and Murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir|
Information is preliminary; investigation is ongoing
|Location||Shu'fat, East Jerusalem|
|Motive||2014 kidnapping and murder of Israeli teenagers or other criminal motive|
The kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir occurred early on the morning of 2 July 2014, a day after the burial of three murdered Israeli teens. Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager was forced into a car in an East Jerusalem street. His family immediately reported the fact to the Israeli Police. Police quickly located his charred body at Givat Shaul in the Jerusalem Forest, and preliminary results from the autopsy suggested he was beaten and burnt while still alive.
The Israeli police investigated several possible motives for his killing. The preliminary evidence indicated that it was probably a revenge attack for the kidnap-murders of the Israeli teens. On Sunday, 6 July, police took into custody six Jewish suspects for interrogation, stating that they believed the murder was most likely carried out by 'terrorists' as revenge. One confessed quickly, incriminating three others, some of them minors, and they were put on remand for 8 days. Within a day, three had confessed and reenacted the murder at the scene of the crime. Three other suspects were released as unconnected with the crime, though they knew of it from the alleged murderers.
The day the suspects were arrested, the family of one of the Israeli victims, the Fraenkels, and the family of Abu Khdeir spoke on the phone and comforted one another. The Fraenkels said they understand the magnitude of the loss and that they oppose any act of violence either by Jews or Arabs.
The attack was widely condemned in Israel, with Israeli media and government officials across the political spectrum expressing strong outrage, shame, and shock. Khdeir family members have, however, blamed government incitement for the murder. The murder was condemned by the families of three murdered Israeli teens, who sent the victim's family their condolences.
The Shu'fat neighborhood, located in East Jerusalem, was home to Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The neighborhood is relatively well-off and calmer than some other areas and its residents do not often get into confrontations with the Israeli police. Muhammad Abu Khdeir was 16 years old. His father owned and ran an electric appliances store, and the boy was studying to become an electrician at the "Amal" vocational high school. The family are part of a large clan that is well known in Shu'afat. In his last days, he helped a family member decorate the main street in Shu'fat with lamps on the occasion of Ramadan.
On 12 June 2014, three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftoli Fraenkel were hitchhiking home from school on the Occupied West Bank and were kidnapped. They were executed almost immediately, but this was not generally known for three weeks when their bodies were discovered on 30 June. In the interim, their fate became the focus of intense concern throughout Israeli society. They were buried late in the afternoon of 1 July.
On the day of the funeral, at a right-wing rally, some 200 Israelis rampaged through Jerusalem yelling "Death to Arabs", endeavoured to assault passers-by, who had to be extricated by police. In Hebron, settlers assaulted Palestinian residents and a 9-year-old child was run over by a settler car. The evening before the killing, a group of racist supporters of the Beitar football club, known as La Familia, held a violent demonstration, in which they chanted "death to Arabs" and harassed Palestinians nearby. According to Peter Beaumont, a 'rash of racist incitement on Israeli social media' broke out after the deaths were revealed. Rabbi Noam Perel, head of Bnei Akiva, the world's largest religious-Zionist youth organization, urged on his Facebook page that the IDF be transformed into an army of avengers, which "will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins". He also wrote:
The travesty will be atoned for with the enemy's blood, not with our tears. A whole nation and thousands of years of history demands revenge. The government of Israel is convened for a meeting of vengeance that is not a mourning sitting.
On the same day, a Palestinian teenager was killed by Israeli forces in a Jenin refugee camp. The killing was widely celebrated on Israeli social media as "revenge". A Facebook page "The People of Israel Demand Revenge" calling passionately for "revenge", was set up by a 17-year-old, showing soldiers posing and touting their rifles, posting messages of "revenge". The page, which quickly gathered 35,000 "likes", was taken down, and, at the recommendation of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, the Israeli police launched a probe into call for incitement on social media. In addition, the IDF announced that soldiers posting messages or photos that pledged to avenge the teens' murder or used racist language will be severely punished, viewing such slogans "with the utmost severity".
On that Tuesday night, a Palestinian family registered a complaint with police concerning an attempt to kidnap their child, 10-year-old Moussa Zalum, on Shu'fat's main street. At the time, they reported, he was walking with his mother and brother when a car stopped and an attempt was made to try and pull him into the vehicle, grabbing him by the throat. The child managed to wriggle free, as the mother beat off the kidnapper and the car sped off. Early on Wednesday morning, 16-year-old Abu Khdeir was murdered. The mother later said two men were involved, and spoke Hebrew. The family alerted the police immediately, the mother said, and a patrol car passed and officers were given details and a description. In police accounts the parents were to go to the police station and lay a formal complaint, something the family did not do, and therefore the police did not investigate. The police also alleged that the father told them the assailtants were not Jewish. The police said that it was only after hearing of the Abu Kheir kidnapping the following morning that police connected the two incidents.
Disappearance and murder
On 2 July the night of the abduction, Abu-Khdeir played computer games on a laptop with his brother before leaving home. Witnesses say that around 3.45am, while the boy was waiting for friends near his home to accompany him to prayer in the vicinity of the mosque, he was taken and thrown into a car by two or three men.
As local youths of the mosque were leaving to get food for the predawn meal, two young men came to Muhammad when he was very close to the mosque, spoke to him and then convinced him or pulled him into the vehicle, which the mosque's Imam, a family relative Mahmoud Abu Khdeir, described as a grey Hyundai, driven by a third man. Cries of help were heard by people nearby, and, according to his father, he yelled: 'Dad, dad, save me.' The father later showed images from local surveillance cameras, downloaded on his cellphone, of two men walking down the pavement where the kidnapping occurred. The vehicle then drove off quickly toward the French Hill Junction and from there to the Jerusalem Forest. Several bystanders saw the kidnapping, and chased the car before notifying the father. The family notified the Israeli police immediately afterwards at 4.05 am about the incident, and the police, accused by the family of neglecting their complaints, tracked Abu Khdeir's cell phone, which was later retrieved from one of the arrested suspect's home, and discovered his scorched body within an hour in the Jerusalem Forest. According to the Palestinian Attorney General, Dr. Muhammed Abed al-Ghani al-Aweiwi, an autopsy conducted at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv revealed that the child had soot in his lungs, indicating that he was alive and breathing when he was torched. Some reports that appeared on Hebrew-language media suggested that Khdeir had been forced to drink gasoline. The burns affected 90% of his body and it appeared he had sustained head injuries from a beating and was repeatedly hit in the head with a sharp object, which is now alleged to have been a tire iron. The Israeli Police suspected that the same vehicle was used in both Abu-Khdeir's and Zalum's cases.
Follow-up incidents reported
On Thursday evening, Palestinians of Shu'fat reported to the Israeli police that four settlers from Pisgat Zeev had attempted to kidnap a 7-year-old local child, Muhammad Ali al-Kiswani, and had fled on being thwarted. On Friday Palestinians of Osarin near Nablus in the West Bank complained that one of them, 22-year-old Tariq Ziad Zuhdi Adeli, had been sprayed with a gas by settlers, abducted in a car and then, taken outside the village, sustained injuries from a hatchet attack to his legs.
Three days later, a video was aired showing Israeli undercover agents beating up Khdeir's cousin, 15-year-old American citizen Tariq Khdeir, in a secluded area after the boy had been handcuffed. Tariq, a student at Universal Academy of Florida high school in Tampa. Israeli spokesmen said he resisted arrested and had a slingshot in his possession. His father, who was present, said his son was not involved in the protests. The U.S. State Department stated that it was "profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force", and called for "a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force". Israeli Border Police started an official investigation on 5 July. Activists drew attention to the video and detention using the Twitter hashtag #FreeTarek. Before and after photos of Tariq Khdeir. He was released Sunday morning on bail, and forbidden residence in Shu'fat.
Investigation of the crime
According to the preliminary indictments released for publication in mid-July, two of the suspects decided to kill a Palestinian in revenge for the killing of the three Israeli teenagers. Cruising around the neighbourhood they attacked a 9 year old boy and then fled. On the evening before the kidnapping, joined by a third person, they arrived at Shuafat via the Damascus Gate neighborhood, and the thirty year old suspect drove round the area while they argued whether to kidnap a man, a woman or a male teenager. Eventually they seized Abu Kheir, beat and stunned him, and took him to the Jerusalem Forest where they spilled flammable material over him, set him on fire, and fled to Tel Aviv to create an alibi. There they ate in a restaurant, and on their return drove into Sur Bahar, attempting to torch Arab vehicles there, until they were noticed by local residents, and had to flee. Israeli officials initially said that the police believed Khdeir had been probably killed in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teens, but that they were also looking into possibility that Khdeir's death might have been an Arab honour killing, or other criminal act, though it was noted that the Khdeir family had no criminal history. The Israeli police at the time justified their decision not to discard the hypothesis of an internal feud or dispute within the clan as the cause for the murder, saying that they knew of earlier attempts to kidnap Abu Khdeir family members, including his younger sister. Two different squads were formed to follow up investigations into both hypotheses, of a 'nationalist' or 'criminal' (Arab) crime. From the outset, rumours abounded, some on Twitter and social network media, suggesting the boy had been killed by Palestinian criminals, or by his relatives in an honour killing, with insinuations the boy was gay.
Some observers, such as Jonathan Cook and Richard Silverstein, accused the Israeli police of planting rumors of honor killings and lies about the teen's sexual orientation in the Israeli media to discredit the family; Khdeir's parents, who went through long hours interrogation by the Israeli police, also accused it of trying to force the honor killing narrative and attempting a cover up "to protect the settlers". The boy's father complained that in the lengthy police interrogation the police asked many questions about the family's personal life, how much pocket money the boy had, and if he had any enemies, and challenged him when he raised the issue of a settler kidnapping.
In pre-dawn raids on Sunday 6 July, Shin Bet and police rounded up 6 suspects, and placed a gag order on the press, which was partially lifted around 17:00 PM. The breakthrough was firstly leaked by anonymous Israeli sources and soon after the police confirmed the arrests, after the gag order was lifted. It emerged that the 6 suspects, some minors, hailed from from Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Adam, otherwise known as Geva Binyamin and had been arrested by tracking the car's vehicle registration plate, which they had obtained from security video in the area. It was also reported that the 6 are also suspected of having attempted to kidnap Moussa Zalum two days earlier.
Later that evening, one suspect confessed and incriminated the other five. Five were remanded for 8 days, and one for a further 5 days, by the Petah Tikva Magistrates Court, which turned down a request they be held for 15 days. Early reports had associated the suspects with the extreme right wing, and sources then revealed that at least some of the suspects had taken part in the Beitar demonstration held the evening before the kidnapping. In addition, one was identified as having an ultra-Orthodox background, another as hailing from an ultra-Orthodox Sephardic family identifying with the Shas worldview. In the only official statement about the arrests, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said "a number of suspects were arrested for the killing" and "there are strong indications that the background was nationalistic." By Monday, 3 had confessed to participating in the murder, and in the presence of police, re-enacted the deed at the scene of the crime in the Jerusalem Forest.
The suspects were initially denied access to counsel because, according to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, "that's what the law allows regarding terrorists." On 9 July the Magistrate Court in Petah Tikva ordered the release on 10 July of three of the suspects thought to be part of the murder group but who were not part of the murder itself, though suspected of knowing about it. The three main suspects confessed to the murder of Abu Khdeir, and remain in custody. They are a 30-year-old man from a community near Jerusalem and two minors from Jerusalem.
On 14 July it was reported the three remaining suspects confessed to the kidnapping and murder, as well as the kidnapping attempt of the other Palestinian boy the previous day. They are said to be preparing to enter an insanity plea. Abu Khdeir's father said on the subject, "From the very first day of the investigation I said that they will either say that the killers are crazy, or they will set them free."
On 20 July, the main suspect in the murder Muhammad Abu Khdeir, Yosef Chaim Ben David, was cleared for publication. The resident of Geva Binyamin, also known as Adam, is accused of hitting the boy with a wrench, pouring gasoline on him and giving him to fire. His defense counsel argued that advertising may expose his family to the dangers. The name of the other two main suspects will not be published since they are both minors.
Family reactions, riots and funeral
Abu Khdeir was given a martyr's funeral in Jerusalem. His family requested that only Palestinian flags be waved near his coffin, though some flew the banner of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The boy's father blamed "fascist murderers", and called on the Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deal with the culprits in the same way as he is handling the murderers of Jewish teenagers, by destroying their homes, as had been done in the previous case with the Palestinian suspects. Abu Khdeir's uncle blamed the crime on "[e]veryone in the government... from [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu down" for fanning racial hostility against Palestinians. The teen's father compared the burning to death of his son to what Jews suffered at German hands in the Holocaust, and attributed the incident to the anti-Arab atmosphere in Israel after three Israeli youths had been murdered, which in his view functioned like a 'green light' for assaulting Arabs. After the arrest of the six suspects, Abu Khdeir's mother, Suha, manifested pessimism that they would be duly punished, saying, "I don't have any peace in my heart, even if they captured who they say killed my son. They're only going to ask them questions and then release them. What's the point?"
Prime Minister Netanyahu sent his condolences to the victim's family, saying: "There is no place for such murders in our society." The condolences were rejected by the family, who said, "[W]e refuse to accept the condolences of someone who agrees on the murder of our people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza." The family has received visits from Israelis at its mourning tent; Abu Khdeir warned, however, that the family would not allow right-wing Israelis in. The family turned away a visit by former Israeli President Shimon Peres. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch also announced he was going to pay a visit at the Abu Khdeir family home, but the visit was reportedly canceled due to scheduling constraints. Some Israeli officials did visit the mourning tent, however. Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), and MK Michal Rozin were among them. (Peretz became the target of abuse on his Facebook page from right-wing Israelis opposed to the visit; abuse included death threats against him and his family, as well as support for Khdeir's murderers.) The Abu Khdeir family also spoke with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. As part of an initiative led by an Israeli NGO combating hate crime, the Tag Meir organization organized for chartered buses from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for a large Israeli contingent wishing to pay respects to the Abu Khdeir family, which welcomed them in the mourners' tent. Anti-racist Israeli activists from Jerusalem also came to express their condolences.
Abu-Kheir's murder sparked off fierce riots for several days, threatening to spilling over to broader unrest. In the Shu'fat area and East Jerusalem, a half-mile section of a major thoroughfare and the Jerusalem Light Rail passing through it were severely damaged. A significant faction in the wave of riots was the suspicion that Israeli extremists were behind a revenge killing of Abu-Kheir. In a different area, near the West Bank Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown and rolled burning tires at security forces, according to Israeli police. A small riot also took place in the Israeli-Arab town of Tayibe where locals burned tires at the town entrance. Police arrested three locals for allegedly throwing stones at a passing vehicle on Highway 444. Khdeir's funeral coincided with the onset of the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Anticipating trouble, Israeli police blocked all the roads leading from East Jerusalem's Palestinian neighborhood westwards, and placed limits on Muslim worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where the year before, on the occasion of Ramadan, some 80,000 had worshipped. Just 8,000 Palestinians managed to attend the mosque that day and numerous riots broke out, with East Jerusalem youths throwing stones and makeshift Molotov cocktails at Israeli police. 100 Arab Israelis mounted a protest at Nazareth and two were arrested by police on Sunday, and a further 15 arrested were made in Tamra during clashes with police. Palestinian flags that had been raised in the Palestinian neighborhoods where rioting occurred were removed by teams from the Jerusalem municipal council sent to clean up the areas. As a response of Israeli-Arab riots violence, many Israeli-Arabs were attacked in many cities in Israel such as Beersheba and Kfar Yona.
The father of the murdered boy stated, "Justice is when they destroy their houses [of his sons murderers] just like they destroyed the houses of the suspects in Hebron," referring to the demolishing of the homes of the two main suspects of the murder of Israeli teenagers, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, in Hebron.
- Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, accused Israeli settlers of carrying out the attack and called for the "strongest punishment against the murderers if Israel truly wants peace".
- Hamas released a statement saying that "Our people will not let this crime pass.... You will pay the price for these crimes."
- Knesset parliamentarian, Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List), speaking at the boy's funeral, said, "We don't demand revenge—we demand freedom."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged a swift inquiry into the "reprehensible murder" and called on people to respect the rule of law. Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem, said the killing was "a horrible and barbaric act which I strongly condemn. This is not our way, and I am fully confident that our security forces will bring the perpetrators to justice. I call on everyone to exercise restraint."
- The Government of Colombia, through a released statement, condemned the assassination of Muhammad Abu Khdeir that took place in the city of Jerusalem and made a call to hold those responsible against the law in the shortest time possible. Colombia also urged the involved parties to "avoid acts of violence and restore understatement".
- Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement condemning the murder and calling Israel and the Palestinian Authority "to take all necessary steps to prevent acts of violence and bring their perpetrators to justice".
- EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement condemning the murder and expressing concern over the potential for more violence. Ashton urged Israelis and Palestinians to exercise "maximum restraint" in the wake of the deaths.
- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the attack was a "despicable act" and demanded the perpetrators be brought to justice.
Families of three murdered Israeli teens
Rachel Fraenkel, mother of 16 year-old Naftali, when she heard that a Palestinian teenager had been murdered in apparent revenge for her son, condemned it immediately. She broke into her own period of mourning to issue a statement: "There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder. There is no justification and no atonement for murder."
In another occasion Rachel Fraenkel stated: "Even in the abyss of mourning for Gil-Ad, Eyal and Naftali, it is difficult for me to describe how distressed we are by the outrage committed in Jerusalem – the shedding of innocent blood in defiance of all morality, of the Torah, of the foundation of the lives of our boys and of all of us in this country. Only the murderers of our sons, along with those who sent them and those who helped them and incited them to murder – and not innocent people – will be brought to justice: by the army, the police, and the judiciary; not by vigilantes. No mother or father should ever have to go through what we are going through, and we share the pain of Mohammed's parents."
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