The U.S. State Department on Wednesday accused Israel of having “singled out” for arrest members of the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian boy who was burned alive last month by Israeli Jews. The statement followed the arrest of a U.S. citizen resident in East Jerusalem who is a relative of the slain boy.
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The U.S. citizen, also named Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was detained by Jerusalem police in a major crackdown in East Jerusalem meant to subdue the riots that erupted in the eastside’s Palestinian neighborhoods after the murder of 16-year-old Abu Khdeir. The murdered boy’s relative and namesake, who is 19, was born in the United States but lives and works in Jerusalem. His arrest was extended to the end of September and no indictment has been served as yet. His brother was arrested along with him.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf criticized Israel for failing to report the arrest to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, as is the usual procedure with arrests of American citizens. She also contended that members of the Abu Khdeir family have been “marked” for arrest by the police.
“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.”
The Abu Khdeir family, based in East Jerusalem’s Shoafat area, supports this claim. According to their count, from the day of the murder until now, no fewer than 35 young members of the family have been arrested, 21 of whom are still under arrest.
“From the entire village they arrested perhaps six or seven people from other families, all the rest from our family. Today it’s enough for you to have the name Abu Khdeir, and they arrest you,” said Walid Abu Khdeir, uncle of the slain boy. In an incident captured on video that caused outrage in America, Tariq Abu Khdeir, the boy’s 15-year-old cousin and a U.S. citizen who was visiting the family when the murder occurred, was beaten to a pulp and arrested by Border Police during the stone-throwing protests.
Attorney Leah Tsemel, who is representing the U.S. citizen Mohammed Abu Khdeir and additional detainees from the Abu Khdeir family, concurs with the State Department’s accusation.
Attorney: ‘Doctor giving first aid still in jail’
“The police are tough with everyone, but especially with the Abu Khdeirs. They were arrested three weeks after the rioting, after the area had calmed down, and [police] are insisting on leaving them under arrest for no reason. One of my clients, for example, is a doctor who was seen in the area of the rioting, not masked and not throwing stones, but administering first aid to the wounded, and he’s still under arrest,” said Tsemel.
The attorney now wants to organize the detainees from the family for a collective request to the State Prosecutor’s Office to consider leniency or a cancellation of the indictments, similar to the policy adopted towards the Jewish rightists who demonstrated against the Gaza disengagement plan, and who received a group pardon after the prosecutor took the stressful situation into account.
Jerusalem police rejected claims that the family is being harassed. “We arrest and investigate everyone who displays disorderly conduct, in order to bring him to trial, without any connection to his name or that of his family. What can we do if a significant percentage of those who rioted in Shoafat are from the Abu Khdeir family?” said a police official.
Regarding complaints about the failure to report to the U.S. Consulate, police said the only detainee named Abu Khdeir on the date of arrest is not registered as a U.S. citizen, and did not say he was one during questioning.
JTA contributed to this report.