Unraveling the Murder That's Shaking Jerusalem: The Facts So Far

Although the police haven’t ruled out Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s death being part of a family feud, that’s the less likely option at this stage.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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An undated family handout picture of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.
An undated family handout picture of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.Credit: AFP
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

1. The question of the motive for the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir on Wednesday morning continued to hang in the air throughout the day: Was it criminal, and he was murdered by Palestinians? Or nationalist, in which case the perpetrators were Jews.

Who was Mohammed Abu Khdeir? Here’s what can be published that hasn’t already been reported. He was 16 and a half, a student in the electricity vocational program at an Amal high school.

His father is an electrician, and he came from a large and well-known family in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shoafat. Earlier this week he helped a relative hang decorative lights on the main street of Shoafat, for Ramadan. At 4 A.M. on Wednesday, he was on his way to the mosque, on foot. Just as fasting and going to synagogue on Yom Kippur says little about a Jew’s degree of religious faith or observance, observing the partial fast and going to the mosque on Ramadan says little about the depth of a Muslim’s faith or religious observance.

Two young men approached Khdeir, very near to the mosque, spoke to him and then persuaded or shoved him into a car driven by a third man. The police have quite a lot of information about the incident.

The car then traveled at great speed in the direction of French Hill, ran a red light and continued to speed toward the Jerusalem Forest. According to Google Maps, when the roads are clear it takes just 12 minutes to drive from the mosque in Shoafat to the place where Abu Khdeir’s body was dumped. The teen’s family notified police immediately, who traced his phone and found his burnt body about an hour later.

All the rest is speculation and guesswork. Israeli right wingers have spread various and sundry rumors about the circumstances of the murder, mainly having to do with “honor killings” or family feuds. Attempts were even made to forge official announcements to this effect, in order to lend them additional credence.

From this writer’s perspective, the police honestly doesn’t know who is responsible and what their motives were. But the process of elimination is increasingly pointing away from criminal motivations and toward nationalistic ones. Palestinian sources say the family is relatively secular and relatively comfortable financially, and that there’s no evidence of disagreements with other families. Anyone familiar with such feuds knows that the attacking side generally targets an important figure from the other side, generally a young man. Killing a 16-year-old boy doesn’t fit that pattern.

In addition, such murders are carried out in broad daylight, on the street, in order to make a statement. Abduction using a vehicle, driving across town and burning the body doesn’t fit the pattern. The police believe that after at least a day of interviewing eyewitnesses, the boy’s parents and other witnesses, if there were a criminal or family-related motive it would have emerged by now.

On the other hand, the murder doesn’t fit the “price tag” pattern either, which up to now has mainly consisted of writing anti-Arab graffiti and puncturing the tires of cars owned by Arabs. But the nationalistic direction makes sense in terms of motive and timing.

2. Since it began operating three years ago, Jerusalem’s light rail has become the most salient symbol of the city’s unification under the wings of normalization and technology. This wasn’t just wishful thinking; the system really has served all the city’s residents. It became a shared space for Jews and Palestinians, contributing a great deal to a mixing of the population and bringing more Palestinians into the city center than ever before in the history of the united city.

On Wednesday, shortly after Abu Khdeir’s body was found, the police ordered the trains to stop at the French Hill intersection. They also closed access to the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina at the new road, from the direction of Benzion Netanyahu Junction. As a result of the heavy damage by Palestinian rioters to the light rail system – stations smashed and set on fire, long expanses of rubber along the tracks set alight, signal and lighting poles toppled, stones between the tracks pulled up, and electricity and communication boxes set on fire – it could take months of repairs before the service to Shoafat and Beit Hanina will resume.

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