What looks like the speedy solving of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir of Shoafat is an impressive achievement for two organizations that have been severely criticized in the media over the past few weeks, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police. The arrest of six suspects affiliated with the extreme Israeli right could help rebuff the claims heard in the Palestinian Authority and among Israeli Arabs that the state is indifferent to Abu Khdeir’s murder.
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What’s more, the fact that the police has so far managed to contain the demonstrations in Jerusalem and the north without any loss of life – in sharp contrast to its performance in October 2000, which ended with the deaths of 13 demonstrators – is worthy of respect. The shocking descriptions of the teen’s murder fanned the anger; the key to putting out the flames is to avoid additional funerals.
Most of the details about the suspects are still subject to a gag order. What is known — that six young men from Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh were arrested, some of them minors — suggests that did not come from the usual populations of interest to the Shin Bet’s Jewish division – the “hilltop youth” and their associates at the fringe of the settler camp. The suspects seem to be closer to the fringes of ultra-Orthodox society, the types who can be spotted here and there at demonstrations of the extreme right.
The group arrested is also suspected of having tried to kidnap a 9-year-old boy the previous day — the day the bodies of the three kidnapped Jewish teens were found. Investigators will have to determine what the suspects were doing at the time.
It would be no surprise if it turns out that the suspects were part of the rabble that was hunting down Arabs that night in downtown Jerusalem. This is a crowd lured into action by those same disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose calls to action are always hinted and implied, never issued outright, so as to avoid prosecution. These are the same people who will probably show up in court to identify with the suspects and complain of persecution by the authorities.
Last week, at the funeral of the three Jewish teens, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of the huge moral chasm between us and the Palestinians. From what’s been made public until now about the way Abu Khdeir was murdered, it looks as if that chasm is closing fast. Who knows what is more morally repugnant: Is it murder by shooting of three unarmed boys followed by merry singing, or beating a victim, dousing him in gasoline and burning him alive? Immediately after the murder of the boy from Shoafat police disseminated baseless assumptions (which wouldn't have gotten the same attention if the victim was Jewish) that the background for the killing was homophobia. The right hastened to declare that Jews are incapable of such acts, apparently forgetting a not-so-short list of those who’ve proven otherwise, among them Ami Popper, Eden Natan-Zada and other Jewish Hamasniks.
Netanyahu, in his statement after the arrests were announced, promised to bring Abu Khdeir’s murderers to justice and offered condolences to the family. But immediately afterward he returned to making a distinction between Israel’s response to homegrown terror and that of the Palestinian Authority, under similar circumstances. It’s true that Israel doesn’t come close to the celebrations the Palestinians hold to immortalize abominable murderers as national heroes, but that doesn’t mean it treats the terrorists of both sides equally. Just last week, the army destroyed the house of the Hamas man suspected in the April murder of police officer Baruch Mizrahi, though the suspect has yet to be tried. No one is going to destroy the homes of the suspects in Abu Khdeir’s murder, before or after their trial, and no one will suggest closing the schools that educated them.
With perfect timing, almost as if it was trying to preserve some sacred balance, the Shin Bet on Sunday also announced the arrest of an Arab taxi driver from the Galilee as a suspect in the murder of Shelly Dadon of Afula. Since Dadon was neither robbed nor sexually assaulted, police suspect the murder was politically motivated, but stressed that the investigation was continuing.
Gush Etzion, Shoafat, the Galilee – it seems as if once again a broad war is being waged between Jews and Arabs on both sides of the Green Line. This impression is fueled by the most violent demonstrations in years in the Triangle and the Galilee, where it seems the murder of Abu Khdeir echoed more forcefully than on the West Bank. It doesn’t seem as if the rallies and riots have any organized leadership behind them, but are the products of groups of young people coordinating their moves via social networks. One might also read signs here of a generational dispute, since most of the Israeli Arab populace is fearful of a repeat of the long-term economic damage that was the fallout of the October 2000 riots.