A 16-year-old Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem was kidnapped and found murdered yesterday morning, his body burnt, in a forest near the entrance to the capital.
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Shortly after word of Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s murder spread, riots broke out around his home in the Shoafat neighborhood. The disturbances continued throughout the day, making it one of the most violent days Jerusalem has seen for many years.
There were also disturbances in Beit Hanina, Issawiya and Silwan, and the Temple Mount was closed to visitors after Palestinians threw rocks at policemen there.
Palestinians threw four pipe bombs at policemen, and Palestinians reported 12 people injured from the crowd-dispersal ammunition, which included tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. Two Israeli journalists were hurt, with one, a photographer, taking a rubber bullet in the face.
Shoafat is considered one of the elite Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, with residents rarely get involved in altercations with police. But after Abu Khdeir’s body was found, hundreds of angry people began to gather and police immediately closed off all access to the neighborhood. The capital’s light rail was not permitted to enter, which also cut off the huge Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev from service. The light rail station in Shoafat was badly damaged by rioters.
Police said they had not determined whether the boy’s murder was carried out by Jewish extremists taking revenge for the murders of three Israeli teenagers who were buried Tuesday, or if Abu Khdeir was killed by Palestinians for criminal motives.
His family, however, angrily denied the rumors that their son’s death was some sort of “family honor” killing or connected to an inter-family feud.
“Our family is not involved in any disputes and he was a good boy,” said Mahmoud, a cousin of the dead teen. “This is not a family problem. This was a kidnapping and everyone has to know that.”
The family is convinced that the kidnappers were Jews avenging the deaths of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, whose murders were confirmed Monday and who were buried Tuesday. Abu Khdeir was kidnapped only a few hours after the funeral of the three had ended.
Hussein Abu Khdeir, Mohammed’s father, said that at around 3:45 A.M. yesterday, his son had gone to a local mosque with friends to have a pre-dawn meal before the day of fasting for Ramadan began. At some point his two friends stepped into the mosque, leaving him outside alone for a moment.
“Two people got out of the car and took him by force,” said the father. “People saw it and ran after them.”
Shortly after the incident, Hussein called the police and reported Mohammed’s disappearance. The police were able to follow the route of the car by tracing Mohammed’s cell phone. Around 90 minutes after the snatching was reported, police found a burnt body in the Jerusalem Forest, on the other side of the city. Large police forces arrived at the scene, and Shin Bet security service personnel were enlisted in the probe.
The parents were summoned to give statements and DNA samples, after which the body was confirmed to be that of their son, although police did not allow the parents to see the body or receive it. The family believes the body will be returned to them today for burial. The two friends who were with him were questioned by police for several hours.
According to family members and others in Shoafat, the previous day there had been another attempt to snatch a boy from the Z’alum family. Residents say the boy was hit by two Jews, but his mother’s screams and the intervention of passersby caused them to flee. The boy was lightly scratched on his neck. Police confirm that a patrol car was sent to the scene in response to a reported assault on a child, but added that the family did not file a complaint and it isn’t clear those attackers were Jews.
Tensions in Jerusalem have been increasing. To contain with the outbreak of violence, Jerusalem police implemented a containment policy in Shoafat. Because no cars were allowed into the neighborhood and no Israeli government offices there were in danger of being targeted, police allowed the demonstrators to express their frustrations, while avoiding arrests as much as possible, so long as they remained within a defined area. Because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began earlier this week, the Jerusalem Police had already boosted the forces deployed in the capital.
On Tuesday, as the three Israeli teens were being buried in Modi’in, right-wing extremists held a protest in the capital that deteriorated into dozens of attempts to attack Arab passersby. Tensions are expected to increase when the results of the Abu Khdeir murder investigation are publicized, especially if it emerges that the murderers were Jews carrying out a revenge attack.