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‘They burned Mohammed once, but we burn every day’: One year since the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir

Israel/Palestine
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33-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir stood outside the Shuafat girls secondary school where the commemoration of the kidnapping and murder of his teenage cousin (who had the same name) was taking place. Down the street was one of several heavily armed Israeli Border Police units strategically placed throughout the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat.

“It has always been about intimidation,” Abu Khdeir told me.

The Israeli Border Police – a paramilitary unit tasked with enforcing occupation – were stationed near the light rail stop close to the illegal Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, and appeared ready to launch a full-scale military operation. One unit was deploying an aerostat surveillance balloon. Among several military and police vehicles, a skunk truck idled, ready to blast the neighborhood with its putrid mix that smells of decaying flesh and feces. Overhead, an Apache attack helicopter passed by. Locals said it had been making rounds all day.

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“It was the same thing a year ago,” Mohammad Abu Khdeir continued. “Instead of going to look for my cousin, Mohammed, they stayed in Shuafat taking cameras and harrassing us. They brought a big show of force instead of going to look for him. We still believe that they may have had a chance to find him if they had gone to look for him instead of harassing us here. When we found out that he [Mohammed] was dead, all hell broke loose. But that’s how it is out here. That’s how it is with them. They want to show you that they’re in charge and it doesn’t matter if we are right or wrong. It’s their house. It’s the way they want to do it.”

July 2nd marked one year since the brutal murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir at the hands of three Israeli settlers. As the rail thin boy sat on his steps in front his home, he was forced into a car, bludgeoned, forced to drink gasoline and burned alive. Israeli police planted a rumor that Mohammed was murdered by his family in an honor killing, and brought family members in for questioning and demanded they take responsibility. Hours later, Mohammed’s charred corpse was found in a forest a few miles away.

While the trial drags on, the Abu Khdeir family fears that Yosef Chaim Ben David, the 30-year-old former eyeglass shop owner who led the attack, will be declared insane and unfit for trial.

Meanwhile, the pain of Mohammed’s brutal murder has not subsided. I recently visited the boy’s grieving parents, Hussein, 50, and Suha Abu Khdeir, 45. “They burned Mohammed once, but we burn every day,” Hussein Abu Khdeir told me as he watched CCTV recording of the kidnapping on his iphone. He scrolled through Facebook, showing me a screenshot from the latest gruesome ISIS video. “I was at the funeral for the Jordanian pilot they burned alive,” he said. “There’s no difference between these killers and my son’s.”

Hundreds of Palestinians march to commemorate the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Hundreds of Palestinians march to commemorate the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

A couple of meters away from the steps where Mohammed sat when he was kidnapped, an estimated 300 Palestinians gathered. Holding signs, they chanted demands of justice for Mohammed. As their calls echoed throughout Shuafat, the light rail passed by, shuttling bewildered Israelis back to their Jewish-only settlements that have strategically limited the growth of the indigenous neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Four boys sat on the railing in front of the Abu Khdeir’s house. Like most Palestinians in Shuafat, they boys did not want to identify themselves for fear of Israeli Border Police reprisal attacks. One boy was a 12-year-old cousin of Mohammed. “We are very scared in the morning during Fajr prayers,” he said, referring to the Ramadan morning prayer during which Mohammed was kidnapped. “We expect there to be confrontations with Israeli soldiers,” the boy explained, wearing a shirt with an image of his dead cousin. His friend, 15, sat next to him on the wall. “I was arrested and forced to stay in my house for one month,” he said.

The families are scared, but they kids are brave,” 28-year-old Ansam Abu Khdeir remarked to me.

Hundreds gathered in Shuafat to commemorate the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Hundreds gathered in Shuafat to commemorate the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

This would make sense as the attacks on the Abu Khdeir family a year ago were vicious. 15-year-old Palestinian-American Tariq Abu Khdeir was handcuffed and nearly beaten to death by three Israeli police on film, and denied proper medical treatment, leaving him unrecognizable to his mother. Throughout the next several months, dozens of boys from the neighborhood were rounded up as the Israeli Border Police launched raids and collectively punished the neighborhood. Local youth vented their frustration by destroying Israeli infrastructure in the neighborhood which remain in disrepair. The Israeli police attacks on the Abu Khdeir family was so egregious that the U.S. government told the Israeli government to refrain from targeting the Abu Khdeir family.

After the crowd gathered, they marched down the main arterial road and along the light rail’s path, before heading up a hill to the secondary school. The family led the procession and held banners bearing their dead son’s image, while a marching band featuring horns, drums and bagpipes played the Palestinian national anthem. Inside the courtyard, large banners were hung on the walls. “They kidnapped, tortured and burned you” and “Story of burning childhood,” they read. Hundreds of people filed in and sat down.

Local leaders spoke including, including Atallah Hanna, Archbishop of Sebastia from the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and a leading figure of Palestinian Christians. “Religion will not divide the Palestinians. We all have one cause,” he boomed.

“Our children’s lives are not owned by the occupation,” Hussein Abu Khdeir declared to the cheering crowd.

Aside from a few journalists, the support that the Abu Khdeir family saw immediately after the murder from the margins of Israeli society had disappeared. The only Knesset member to attend the memorial was Osama Saadi from the Joint List.

A traditional dance troupe did a macabre and moving performance. Young women swayed over a representation of the boy’s corpse, some of them unable to hold back their tears as they performed. Their male counterparts picked up the body and the females joined in as family members burst into tears.

After the speeches and performance, the Abu Khdeir family had spent tens of thousands of dollars on an Iftar dinner for the hundreds of people who came to the memorial. In a last minute move, Fatah political representatives attempted to pay for the dinner. However, the Abu Khdeir family rejected the move, dismissing it as an attempt to save face and make political gains.

During the procession went on, a small explosion was heard outside the school courtyard, sounding similar to the flash bangs the Israeli Border Police typically use during attacks. Young men and boys jumped out of their seats and rushed out, but it was a false alarm.

Down the hill, Israeli forces were stationed on the corner. There, 65-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir, was frustrated with the Border Police presence. “Thanks for coming! See you later,” he sarcastically shouted at them as one vehicle drove away. “They are instigators!”

Abu Khdeir pointed to a group of boys on the corner. “These little kids grow up on their brutality and aggression. You look at me? I look at you with ten eyes. You push me? I kick your ass!”

Born in Shuafat, Mohammad Abu Khdeir now lives in Baltimore, Maryland. I asked him how the racism he witnesses in Baltimore compares to his experience in his native Jerusalem. “Even with the white and black racism, this is worse,” he shouted. “This is Zionism!”

Aware that Border Police were waiting for pretext to attack the neighborhood, Abu Khdeir instructed the local youth to go home. “They is exactly what’s happening with these kids. Just leave them alone! If you go to the Israeli areas there are places to play soccer and ping-pong. These kids have nothing. They play soccer in the streets. Why don’t they [Israelis] do something equal? You treat me [right], I treat you [right]. But to treat Israelis different than the Palestinians? This is a no-no!”

Visibly upset, Abu Khdeir’s family members asked him to leave the area. “I say, ‘No justice no peace,’” he shouted as he walked away.

Palestinians march to commemorate the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Members of marching bad sit under banner commemorating death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Dan Cohen
About Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Palestine. He tweets at @dancohen3000.

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10 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    July 3, 2015, 4:19 pm

    RE: “But that’s how it is out here. That’s how it is with them. They want to show you that they’re in charge and it doesn’t matter if we are right or wrong. It’s their house. It’s the way they want to do it.” ~ Abu Khdeir

    FROM ALISTAIR CROOKE, London Review of Books, 03/03/11:

    [EXCERPTS] . . . It was [Ariel] Sharon who pioneered the philosophy of ‘maintained uncertainty’ that repeatedly extended and then limited the space in which Palestinians could operate by means of an unpredictable combination of changing and selectively enforced regulations, and the dissection of space by settlements, roads Palestinians were not allowed to use and continually shifting borders. All of this was intended to induce in the Palestinians a sense of permanent temporariness. . .
    . . . It suits Israel to have a ‘state’ without borders so that it can keep negotiating about borders, and count on the resulting uncertainty to maintain acquiescence. . .

    SOURCE – http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n05/alastair-crooke/permanent-temporariness

  2. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    July 3, 2015, 4:53 pm

    RE: “Instead of going to look for my cousin, Mohammed, they stayed in Shuafat taking cameras and harrassing us. They brought a big show of force instead of going to look for him. We still believe that they may have had a chance to find him if they had gone to look for him instead of harassing us here.” ~ Abu Khdeir

    MY COMMENT: Perhaps they had planned on “pinkwashing” Mohammed’s disappearance!*

    * FROM WIKIPEDIA (Kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir):

    [EXCERPTS] . . . The kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir occurred early on the morning of 2 July 2014 . . .
    . . . From the outset, rumours abounded, with Israelis and pro-Israelis 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 that he was gay.[76] There were suspicions that, in order to discredit the Khdeir family, the Israeli police planted rumors in the Israeli media about an honor killing provoked by the teen’s supposed sexual orientation.[77] Lara Friedman, from the left-wing Israeli group Peace Now, pointed out the non-existence of homophobic honor killing incidents in Palestine, saying this hypothesis made no sense, and concluded that the scenario was raised by the Israelis in a show of pinkwashing that constituted a blood libel against the Palestinian nation.[78] Other commentators also made reference to the concept of pinkwashing, accusing Israelis of being overly willing to take up the honor killing narrative, and too confident of its veracity, so as to remove from any Israeli Jews the blame over Khdeir’s murder and portray Palestinians as barbarians.[77][79] Khdeir’s parents, who went through long hours interrogation by the Israeli police, also accused it of trying to force the honor killing narrative[74] and attempting a cover up “to protect the settlers”.[47] 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, but challenged him when he raised the issue of a settler kidnapping.[80] . . .

    P.S. OTHER RELEVANT ARTICLES:

    • “After Abu Khdeir murder, an ugly collision of homophobia” – http://972mag.com/after-abu-khdeir-murder-an-ugly-collision-of-homophobia-and-racism/94465/

    • “The Pinkwashing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir” – The Forward — http://forward.com/opinion/israel/201531/the-pinkwashing-of-mohammed-abu-khdeir/

    • “How pinkwashing leaves Israel feeling squeaky clean” – http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.603731

    • “A Blood Libel Against All Palestinians”” – The Forward — http://forward.com/opinion/israel/201752/a-blood-libel-against-all-palestinians/

  3. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    July 3, 2015, 5:28 pm

    RE: “They burned Mohammed once, but we burn every day,” Hussein Abu Khdeir told me as he watched CCTV recording of the kidnapping on his iphone. He scrolled through Facebook, showing me a screenshot from the latest gruesome ISIS video. “I was at the funeral for the Jordanian pilot they burned alive,” he said. “There’s no difference between these killers and my son’s.” – Cohen

    MY COMMENT: The ringleader (30-year-old Yosef Chaim Ben David) testified shortly after his arrest that their plan was to “avenge” the deaths of the three Israeli yeshiva students abducted/murdered in the West Bank by going on a “human hunt” for “an Arab victim” and then killing him “as a sacrifice” (i.e., a human sacrifice).*

    *SEE: “Abu Khdeir murder suspect recounts grisly killing”, by Daniel K. Eisenbud, JPost.com, 13 August 2014

    [EXCERPTS] Chilling testimony from the main suspect in the July 2 murder of 16-year-old east Jerusalem resident Muhammad Abu Khdeir confirmed the brutal homicide was indeed rooted in revenge for the three yeshiva students abducted and killed by Hamas operatives in June. . .

    . . . During his testimony, the alleged ringleader behind the kidnapping and subsequent torture of Abu Khdeir, said he first discussed seeking revenge following the funerals of Gil- Ad Shaer, 16, Eyal Yifrah, 19, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16.

    “We began talking about what happened, about the kidnapped youths, and decided that they needed to be avenged,” he said in his testimony.

    “I was furious at [the killers] while the entire country was silently praying.”

    According to Ben-David, the three then agreed to go on a “human hunt” for an Arab victim.

    “We planned to hurt a soul, meaning to kill… to torture him and kill him,” he told police, adding that he wanted his victim “to know that he was about to die as a sacrifice for the Jews that were murdered.”

    To that end, Ben-David testified that he filled three empty bottles with the gasoline used to burn their victim alive. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.jpost.com/National-News/Abu-Khdeir-murder-suspect-recounts-grisly-killing-370911

  4. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    July 3, 2015, 5:33 pm

    RE: While the trial drags on, the Abu Khdeir family fears that Yosef Chaim Ben David, the 30-year-old former eyeglass shop owner who led the attack, will be declared insane and unfit for trial. ~ Dan Cohen

    Netanyahu to Abu Khdeir family: “We’ll bring Mohammed’s killers to justice”

    P.S. NOTICE that Netanyahu wore a yarmulke and even “trotted out” Sara to add sincerity for this occasion!

    • JLewisDickerson
      JLewisDickerson
      July 3, 2015, 5:48 pm

      P.P.S. RE: “trotted out” Sara ~ me (from above)

      IDIOM: trot out

      trot someone or something out – to bring out and display someone or something.
      The boss trotted the new vice president out for us to meet.
      The boss trotted out his daughter and introduced her as a new vice president.
      Fred trotted out his favorite project for everyone to see.

      SOURCE – http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/trot+out

    • JLewisDickerson
      JLewisDickerson
      July 3, 2015, 6:14 pm

      P.P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “Abu Khdeir murder trial: defendant tells court he did not plan to kill teenager”, by Peter Beaumont, theguardian.com, 3 June 2015
      One of two Israeli teenagers accused with 30-year-old man of the abduction and murder of 16-year-old Palestinian boy says he felt pressured to join kidnapping

      [EXCEDRPT] One of two Israeli teenagers accused with a 30-year old man of the kidnap and murder of Palestinian boy last summer has described the killing in detail for the first time in evidence at his trial in Jerusalem. . .

      . . . Speaking in his defence at his trial at a Jerusalem district court, the teenager, who cannot be named because he is a minor, blamed Yosef Ben-David, his 30-year-old co-accused, as motivating the hate crime, adding that he had never planned to kill Abu Khdeir.

      In an angry outburst in the court, and in comments outside later, Abu Khdeir father accused the teenager of lying.

      Ben-David, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Adam, admitted last year he had been responsible for setting Abu Khdeir alight. He has, however, refused to testify, invoking his right to remain silent, while his lawyer has insisted his client is “insane” and therefore unfit for trial.

      The teenager, who has claimed he was emotionally dependent on the older man, said in his defence that he had felt pressured to join in the kidnapping. “When [Ben-David] picked me up at my home he told me we had to do something … to avenge God’s honour. It was hard for me to say no to him,” the teenager said.

      “I was conflicted. I was afraid to do something but on the other hand I also couldn’t say no to him. I find it difficult believe that I was involved in such a horrific incident. It’s not true that I planned to kill him. I never dreamed that it would end in the way it did.” . . .

      . . . After kidnapping Abu Khdeir, the teenager said: “I was sure [Ben-David] would let us off on the side of the road. I didn’t think he would take him into the woods and beat him there. I thought he would drop it.

      “There was shouting in the car and there was tension. We reached the Jerusalem forest, and the whole trip we held him from behind. Ben-David asked where the crowbar was, and said that they (the Arabs) have seven souls, then he gave him two blows to the head with the crowbar.

      “I said to Ben-David: ‘Enough!’ I got into the car and suddenly I saw a huge bonfire and understood the meaning. I didn’t see with my own eyes that it was Yosef who lit it, but from what was said, he lit it.”

      ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/03/abu-khdeir-murder-trial-jerusalem

      P.P.P.P.S. AND SEE: “Trial of Abu Khdeir killers ‘a sham’, says family”, by Nigel Wilson, aljazeera.com, 01 Jul 2015
      As Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s family marks a year since his death, they fear that justice will not be served.
      LINK – http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/07/trial-abu-khdeir-killers-sham-family-150701075625547.html

      • Bornajoo
        Bornajoo
        July 4, 2015, 12:56 pm

        Thanks for all of the links and comments JLD. This really is a truly shocking and appalling premeditated crime and the perpetrators MUST be properly punished. I unfortunately share the fears of the family that the authorities may succeed in ‘proving’ the killer is insane which would never, ever happen if it was a Palestinian being held for murdering a Jewish Israeli in such an absolutely barbaric and evil way.

        Many thanks Dan Cohen

  5. Kay24
    Kay24
    July 4, 2015, 8:21 am

    This unfortunate family has suffered too much and lost far too many loved ones. It is sad that there is no justice for them, and that the criminals who are responsible for the many crimes against his family, including the American kid who was beaten is not getting due justice from the only “democracy” in the ME. The world was horrified when Mohammed Abu Khdeir was violently killed last year, but it seems everyone has forgotten that those responsible must be held accountable and punished. If little kids can be kidnapped at night and incarcerated in Israel dungeons, and treated badly, why do such brutal crimes by those who consider themselves the master race, not face the consequences of their brutal crimes?

  6. catporn
    catporn
    July 4, 2015, 8:38 am

    What torment this poor boys family must be feeling, when I imagine someone being tortured and burnt to death like this it makes my skin crawl, but five minutes from now I’ll be doing something else and wont have to think about this awful crime again. For them having to picture it over and over must be hell. Life in prison for the ringleader wont make those images go away, but dropping the charges because of a fabrication of insanity will be a painful salt in the wound.

  7. michelle
    michelle
    July 6, 2015, 10:22 am

    .
    of course the murderers are insane
    it is insane to commit murder
    it should not be allowed an excuse to avoid punishment/justice
    .
    what ever happened about the shooting/murder(s) of the other Palestine kid(s) that occured
    right before the three Jewish kids were kidnapped and murdered
    .
    no justice no peace
    .
    G-d Bless
    .

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