On July 2, three Israeli settlers kidnapped and murdered 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir from the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat. Yosef Chaim Ben David, 29, a shopkeeper from the settlement of Adam masterminded the plot. According to a published indictment, Ben David, along with two minors whose identities are protected by a gag order, forced Mohammed Abu Khdeir into a car and beat him with a wrench before forcing him to swallow gasoline. Autopsies found soot in Abu Khdeir’s lungs, indicating that he was burned alive.
Early last month, I met with the Abu Khdeir family in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat. Three months after the murder of the soft-spoken teenager, the Abu Khdeir family awaits justice that will likely never come. Sitting in their mourning tent in front of their home, Hussein Abu Khdeir, Muhammad’s father, told me, “I’m 100% certain we won’t receive justice in this racist court.”
Since the horrific murder of their son, Israel has waged a campaign of intimidation and harassment as punishment for the damage to Israel’s image abroad resulting from international coverage of their son’s brutal murder.
On an almost nightly basis, Israeli police in full riot gear station themselves in vans outside the Abu Khdeir home. They frequently conducts raids, ransacking and kidnapping dozens of young men and boys from their homes, at least 25 of which remain in various jails throughout Israel, according to the family.
Tareq Abu Khdeir, Mohammed’s 15-year-old Palestinian-American cousin, was handcuffed and beaten within inches of his life by Israeli police, rendering his swollen face unrecognizable to his mother. After the beating, Tareq Abu Khdeir was put in Israeli jail and denied proper medical attention. A video of the attack surfaced, pressuring the US State Department to issue a statement on the brutal beating. Upon his release, he was banned from visiting his family’s home in Shuafat. Hours after Tareq Abu Khdeir departed Israel for the United States, Israeli police ransacked the Abu Khdeir home in Shuafat, leaving the family terrified.
The arrest and jailing of American citizen and cousin of the murdered teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 19, went almost unnoticed by media. US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf eventually issued a statement on Israel’s targeting of the Mohammed Abu Khdeir and the family: “We are concerned that the U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem was not notified of his arrest by the government of Israel,” she said. “We are also concerned about the fact that members of the Khdeir family appeared to be singled out for arrest by the Israeli authorities.”
On August 9, I attended a memorial at the Abu Khdeir home that marked the end of the traditional forty day mourning period. As night fell and those who came to pay respect to the family departed, dozens of Israeli police in riot gear attacked the gathering, wantonly throwing stun grenades into crowds of men, women and children. Police shoved mourners and shined laser pointers into the eyes and camera lenses of anyone who filmed the attack, myself included.
Wednesday, I attended the Abu Khdeir trial in Jerusalem and met with Hussein Abu Khdeir in his partially erected mourning tent afterwards. In what he described as a ploy, Hussein told me that the trial had been scheduled to begin at 3pm but the family’s lawyer received a call the previous evening at 5pm, informing that the trial would be moved ahead to 1pm. The last minute schedule change drastically reduced the number of protestors that showed up prior to the trial. “They are playing with us,” Abu Khdeir told me. “They keep messing with us to make us go crazy.”
Yet the protesters’ calls for justice were heard by the judge during the hearing, Hussein Abu Khdeir told me. “Our lawyer told the judge that we don’t want their lawyer and the court to make a settlement behind our back so they can let him off,” Abu Khdeir said. “That’s why the protestors are outside chanting for justice. We want real justice, not just to do whatever they want behind everybody’s back.”
Before entering the building, Abu Khdeir family members that wore black t-shirts that bore an image of Mohammed’s face were forced to turn their shirts inside out to hide the image. “They didn’t give us a reason, they just said ‘you can’t wear it,’” Hussein Abu Khdeir said.
Inside the courthouse, Israeli journalists met with Hussein Abu Khdeir and his lawyer. Speaking to the bereaved father in a patronizing tone, an Israeli journalist criticized his call for equal punishment for Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. Referring to the near-immediate demolitions of the suspects’ homes in the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers, Hussein Abu Khdeir asked why the State of Israel hadn’t issued demolition orders for the murderers of his son. “This would be justice,” Abu Khdeir told the reporter. “Same treatment, so there will be no racism. So there will be no difference between one murder and another.”
I stood in a hallway outside where Ben David and two minors were set to be put on trial for the grisly murder. Journalists were whisked out of the courtroom by security and barred from entering the courtroom on the grounds of protection the minor suspects’ identities.
Hussein Abu Khdeir expressed the family’s fear that Ben David’s lawyers will make a deal with the court that excludes the Abu Khdeir family and prevents any possibility of justice. “A court of justice won’t give the people who burned my son a couple of years and then release them,” he told reporters. “Then the President will also come and pardon them. I want a court of real justice.”
The trial has once again been postponed. According the Hussein Abu Khdeir, the delay was requested by the defense because the lawyer had not read the casework and was unprepared. Abu Khdeir sees this as yet another stalling tactic to prevent any possibility of justice for the family. “They already knew everything,” he told me. “It’s just a tactic to delay everything. I don’t think they would grant me the same leniency.”
After the hearing, chants for justice from the protesters across the street greeted the Abu Khdeir family as walked down the courthouse steps. As Hussein Abu Khdeir was hoisted onto the shoulders of a protester to lead the chants, heavily armed Israeli police shoved protesters and journalists for no apparent reason. At one point, a policeman aimed a weapon that fires foam tipped projectiles — called “foam batons” — at a protester standing only a few feet away.
The memory of Mohammed Abu Khdeir is as strong as ever in Shuafat. A massive banner bearing Mohammed’s image now hangs over the outer wall of his home just meters from where he was kidnapped. Under a state campaign of harassment, the Abu Khdeir family remains steadfast in the demand for justice even if it is ultimately futile.