Amid Wave of Violence, Teen’s Killing Shocks Israel's Arab Community

The murder of a 17-year-old has shocked people to the core amid violence that has claimed the lives of 90 Israeli Arabs this year

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Adel Khatib's mother grieves at the funeral, December 6, 2019.
Adel Khatib's mother grieves at the funeral, December 6, 2019.Credit: Rami Shllush

Fatma, the mother of Adel Khatib, the Shfaram teenager who was murdered last week, sat at the entrance to her home in the Galilee city on Friday afternoon. “They murdered my son, they murdered my son,” she mumbled, weeping, looking toward the second story of her house, where Adel was to have lived after he started a family. Surrounded by Adel’s four sisters and her friends and relatives, she gazed at a picture of her son. For a long while she held onto a gray cat that Adel had raised, asking over and over: “Why did they murder him?”

Khatib’s body was found Thursday in an open area near a school in Shfaram; he had been reported missing on Wednesday.

Nearby, in the eastern part of Shfaram, Adel’s father Ashraf sat with his male relatives in the mourning tent. It was quiet. One of them, Sa’id Khatib, said: “Everyone falls silent in the face of such an event.” An uncle, Nabil Khatib, added: “We look at Ashraf and we see a man whose world has been destroyed. I don’t know whether the family will recover from such a thing.”

Adel Khatib.Credit: Israel Police Spokesperson

The day that Adel’s body was found, Ibrahim Khasamra died of gunshot wounds in the Galilee village of Ba’ana. Two days earlier, Samara Samara, who owned a shawarma stand, was murdered. Akel Da’as, who had shot him, was shot to death by a police officer.

But even at the height of a wave of violence in the Israeli Arab community, with 90 victims so far this year, the murder of the teen from Shfaram shocked people to the core.

Six people have been murdered in Shfaram this year, said Sa’id Khatib, “but here, a 17-year-old who was not involved in anything criminal was dragged to an open area, murdered and buried. We don’t know why things reached the point of such a murder. How cruel can people be?”

Adel Khatib's father at the funeral, December 6, 2019.Credit: Rami Shllush

Adel, who had dropped out of school, worked as a plasterer with his grandfather. “He was full of the joy of life; he had hopes of getting ahead in business,” Nabil Khatib said of Adel.

Sa’id Khatib, who is the coordinator of an anti-violence program in Shfaram, said Adel also volunteered: “He was a member of a group of teenagers who started a workshop and talked about the need to uproot violence. He took part more than once in projects about tolerance and brotherhood and the fight against violence and in the end, he was murdered so cruelly.”

Four suspects from Adel’s neighborhood have been arrested in connection with his murder but the motive is still unclear. “What could a 17-year-old have done to have his life end like this?” his uncle Nabil asked. According to the uncle, the four suspects are young men known to the family. “Two of them had a falling out with Adel a few months ago, it was some foolish argument that young people get into, and then we talked to them and we thought it was finished. Adel himself didn’t seem afraid or threatened.”

Police forensics team investigates the site where Khatib's body was found, December 5, 2019.Credit: Israel Police spokesperson

On Thursday the four suspects’ detention was extended by six days. The Khatib family apparently believes they are guilty.

“I advise everyone to wait patiently and give the police a chance to complete the investigation,” Shfaram’s mayor, Ursan Yassin, told Haaretz. “The murder shocked everyone and this is a horrific event by any standard, that no one can be indifferent about. But we have to be cautious and not jump to conclusions. I’m in constant contact with the police and I hope they’ll discover the truth very soon. Those responsible for this atrocious act must be brought to justice.”

Thousands of people came to Adel’s funeral on Friday, including many people who did not know the family closely, but whom the tragedy had impelled to come to the cemetery. A demonstration against violence was held on Saturday in Shfaram’s main square. Meanwhile, senior officials in the municipality met with members of a reconciliation committee that works to resolve conflicts in the Arab community. The committee is due to meet with members of Adel’s family and relatives of the suspects in the coming days to try to prevent any revenge action. “An act of vengeance will escalate tension in the city, and this we must prevent,” Yassin said.