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Investigation of Abu Khdeir murder tainted by racism, police incompetence

Between shoddy work and a culture of racism toward Palestinians, it is no wonder that the police failed to prevent the brutal murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

On Wednesday night, Israel’s Channel 10 broadcast a one-hour investigative report that delves deeply into the circumstances surrounding the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Last July three Jewish Israelis, a 29-year-old man and two teenage boys, abducted Abu Khdeir into their car from a main street near his home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Shuafat, beat him and drove him to a nearby wooded area where they burned him alive. Arrested and interrogated by police, the three suspects confessed to and re-enacted the murder, which they said was in revenge for the murders of three Jewish boys abducted by Hebron-area men who were linked to Hamas.

And Israel border policeman outside the Abu Khdeir home in Shuafat, East Jerusalem Sept. 7, 2014 (Photo: Tamar Fleishman)

And Israel border policeman outside the Abu Khdeir home in Shuafat, East Jerusalem Sept. 7, 2014 (Photo: Tamar Fleishman)

The abduction and immolation of Mohammed Abu Khdeir shocked Israelis and was the catalyst for violent demonstrations in East Jerusalem. Riot police responded by invading East Jerusalem and using crowd control methods ranging from tear gas and rubber bullets to severe beatings and mass arrests. The Gaza War distracted attention from the situation in Jerusalem for a while, but the violence never really abated. In recent weeks the situation has deteriorated even further, with the city now caught in a worrying cycle of violence that feels very combustible. Lone Palestinians have carried out stabbings and deliberate hit-and-runs against Jewish civilians, while paramilitary police have responded with increasing violence. Gunfire, tear gas beatings and mass arrests continue every night, into the pre-dawn hours.

Journalist Yisrael Rosner investigative report into the Abu Khdeir murder is presented — in Jerusalem, rather than from Channel 10’s Tel Aviv-area studios — by Raviv Drucker and Razi Barkai, both prominent veteran journalists. Summing up at the end, Drucker boils the story down to two elements: police incompetence and an ingrained culture of racism toward Palestinians.

Neither shoddy police work nor anti-Arab prejudice is new to Israeli society, and there is a tendency to shrug these things off with a disapproving click of the tongue and a sigh. But Abu Khdeir’s murder was so shocking that it did succeed in penetrating the mainstream Israeli consciousness, making the investigation relevant and timely. In his report, Rosner examines the question of whether or not the police could have prevented the murder. He also looks into one of the initial police claims, made at the start of the investigation and widely reported by the Israeli media, that Abu Khdeir might have been murdered by his own family because they had discovered he was a homosexual.

Muhammad Abu Khdeir.

Muhammad Abu Khdeir.

The three men who murdered Mohammed Abu Khdeir had attempted the previous night to abduct someone else – a 7 year-old boy named Mousa Zaloum. This story was reported many weeks ago, by both the Israeli and international media, but without follow up. Rosner re-interviews the family and then the police spokesperson, and discovers that the police never investigated the attempted abduction of the little boy. Mousa’s parents, obviously still deeply shaken at having nearly seen their son murdered, recount the abduction attempt in detail that shocks the viewer. The would-be abductors had seen the boy on the street accompanied by his mother, who was pushing a younger sibling in a stroller. They grabbed him around the neck and tried to drag him, using a rope that left scars on the boy’s neck. The mother, hearing her son’s screams, ran to fight off his attackers. When she succeeded in freeing him they turned on her, beating her and smashing her mobile phone. Later, they told police that they’d beaten the mother in order to prevent her from having more children. Eyewitnesses and the mother told police the attackers had been Jewish Israelis who spoke Hebrew, and CCTV cameras on the street recorded the incident. But the police did not investigate or conduct any follow up until after Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s body was found.

The police also tried to imply, at one point shortly after Abu Khdeir’s body was discovered, that the Palestinian teenager might have been killed as a result of an internecine dispute — a clan-based fight (the Abu Khdeir family is the largest in Shuafat, with about 800 members according to various media reports). They had no evidence to support this claim, but they did have a source for that other claim, that Abu Khdeir’s own relatives had murdered him in a so-called “honor killing,” because he was gay. That source was a Facebook page discovered by an Israeli journalist.

According to Elinor Sidi, the executive director of the Jerusalem Open House, a reporter from Reshet Bet (Israel Radio) called her to ask if Mohammed Abu Khdeir was a member of the openly gay Jerusalem community. Sidi told him that she had never heard of Abu Khdeir and that he was not part of their community. The reporter’s source was a Facebook page attributed to the Jerusalem Open House, with a status expressing sorrow over the death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Sidi notes that the cadence of the writing is very similar to her own. But the Facebook page was fake and she did not write the status. The police know this now, but they never apologized to the family. Nor did they use the IP address to track down the person or persons who created the fake Facebook page, which after all ended up wasting police time and diverting attention and manpower from the investigation.

Palestinian residents of Shuafat stand above the body of Muhammad Abu Khdeir during his funeral. (photo: Activestills)

Palestinian residents of Shuafat stand above the body of Muhammad Abu Khdeir during his funeral. (photo: Activestills)

And despite eyewitnesses who said the would-be abductors had spoken Hebrew, not to mention the existence of color CCTV footage showing the three abductors from several different angles, the police investigators took seriously the racist fairy tales about internecine murders and honor killings.

The three murderers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir are now in jail, after having received due legal process. The murdered boy’s family is destroyed, the story of his parents’ horrified grief etched in deep lines on their faces. Meanwhile, young Palestinian protestors in East Jerusalem are arrested and jailed every night. As we have seen over and over, they are beaten and dragged to jail without any due process. Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s mother tells Rosner what she knows to be true: that if an Arab living under Israeli sovereignty had abducted, beaten and burned alive a Jewish boy, he would have been shot to death by paramilitary police and his family’s house destroyed. And for Israeli Jews, that would have been justice.

But it seems that we’re quite used to seeing Palestinians denied basic civil rights, and their humanity as well.

More on the Abu Khdeir murder:
Police threaten to destroy memorial for slain Palestinian teen
After Abu Khdeir murder, an ugly collision of homophobia and racism
An open letter to the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir

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    COMMENTS

    1. Ginger Eis

      It is no secrete, Lisa Goldman, that the police in EVERY country on the planet are not the smartest people on earth. It is also no secret that when an innocent person gets convicted of a crime (s)he didn’t commit, its mostly because the police messed up. It is equally no secret whatsoever that when a criminal gets acquitted for a crime (s)he committed, it’s because the police messed up. We know for certain that while Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were kidnapped in Judea & Samaria, they called the cops before they were murdered (and the gunshots could be heard on the phone speaker!), but the cops did nothing and are not considered racists as a result. But somehow, when the Arabs are at the receiving end of bad police job, it must be because (a) the Israeli society is racist and (b) Israeli cops are racists! Hmmm, that doesn’t make sense, Lisa Goldman. Try again, miaam!

      Reply to Comment
      • Sadie

        1) Israeli society is racist.
        2) The Israeli police is racist.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Average American

      Zionism is racist. Israel is run by Zionists. Irgun to Herut to Likud. John Kerry of U.S. government is a self-proclaimed Zionist on Jewish TV: “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist.” Did you get you some more campaign contributions for saying that Kerry? What a buffoon and embarrassment to U.S. And what is this “unbreakable bond” we’re supposed to have with Israel? Is it our national debt? One more thing: does anyone else see similarities of Sudetenland and West Bank?

      Reply to Comment
    3. “The three murderers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir are now in jail, after having received due legal process. The murdered boy’s family is destroyed, the story of his parents’ horrified grief etched in deep lines on their faces. Meanwhile, young Palestinian protestors in East Jerusalem are arrested and jailed every night. As we have seen over and over, they are beaten and dragged to jail without any due process. Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s mother tells Rosner what she knows to be true: that if an Arab living under Israeli sovereignty had abducted, beaten and burned alive a Jewish boy, he would have been shot to death by paramilitary police and his family’s house destroyed. And for Israeli Jews, that would have been justice.

      But it seems that we’re quite used to seeing Palestinians denied basic civil rights, and their humanity as well.”

      To me, these 2 paragraphs are the point of the post. There is no justice for Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        Please. Sheen is not credible. Stop with the nonsense.

        Reply to Comment
    4. phil

      still waiting for the murderers’ houses to be demolished..

      After all, the family home of suspected terrorists are.. so why not these confessed terrorists

      They’ll do a few years and get a presidential pardon.. par for the course

      Reply to Comment
    5. “The three murderers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir are now in jail, after having received due legal process. The murdered boy’s family is destroyed, the story of his parents’ horrified grief etched in deep lines on their faces. Meanwhile, young Palestinian protestors in East Jerusalem are arrested and jailed every night. As we have seen over and over, they are beaten and dragged to jail without any due process. Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s mother tells Rosner what she knows to be true: that if an Arab living under Israeli sovereignty had abducted, beaten and burned alive a Jewish boy, he would have been shot to death by paramilitary police and his family’s house destroyed. And for Israeli Jews, that would have been justice.

      But it seems that we’re quite used to seeing Palestinians denied basic civil rights, and their humanity as well.”

      That’s the main point. Also, if I’m not mistaken, there are still members of the Abu Khdeir family who were arrested after Mohammed’s body was found or around the time of the brutal beating of Tariq, Mohammed’s american cousin.

      It’s not just a simple matter of police incompetence. It’s way beyond that pedestrian explanation. There is a well-documented system of brutality so this would seems par for the course(thanks Phil). It’d look really strange for them to be supercops when it comes to gathering evidence, etc., and neanderthals everywhere else.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Pedro X

      I think that Lisa gets this story completely wrong. The Israeli police did a tremendous job in arresting and obtaining confessions from the killers of the youth within 4 days of the crime. It was only through a thorough effort the accused killers had been arrested so soon after the crime.

      Lisa suggests that the crime may never have happened if the police had investigated the attempt to kidnap a Palestinian child the day before. However, the fact was that Police did investigate. They interviewed the mother who was unable to describe the persons who tried to kidnap her son. The father of the child claimed that settlers had tried to kidnap his son. The police asked him to come to the police station to file a complaint and make a statement. The father of the child, even though contacted on multiple occasions, did not file a complaint.

      The next night at 3.48 am the kidnapping and murder take place. Police locate the burned boy’s body within an hour of the kidnapping being reported. Police began a manhunt for the person or persons responsible. In investigating the crime the police interviewed family members, some of whom told police of a family feud among extended family members and previous kidnapping events. Other family members told police that “settlers” kidnapped and killed the boy.

      These were leads among other leads which the police actively pursued. Both leads were dead ends. The boy was not killed by settlers. The boy was not killed by extended family in a blood feud or because he was gay. The killers were members of the Haredi community known as delinquent Haredi. They planned to kidnap and kill a random Palestinian teen and did. They gave no warning. They changed their clothes to look like secular people. They brought tire irons, handcuffs and gasoline with them. They drove around looking for a victim. They then kidnapped and killed a Palestinian youth with whom they had no previous contact.

      Through police investigations and interviews the police got warrants for the arrest of 7 individuals, after the interrogation of whom they obtained confessions from the three guilty.

      So where is the police misconduct or incompetence in this matter? How is the investigation tainted by racism? Police received leads and followed them up. In a short amount of time the police solved the case and arrested those who have now being charged with the death of the youth.

      Reply to Comment
      • Deborah Gordon

        This is whitewashing.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ginger Eis

          You have not refuted anything, Deborah. You need to make a series of coherent, and I mean COHERENT, arguments to demonstrate how Pedro whitewashed. Are you capable of doing that?

          Reply to Comment
      • How can Haredi be involved in a “blood feud” which involves the kidnapping of “a random Palestinian teen”? How could they kidnap a “random Palestinian teen” because he was gay, with whom they had “no previous contact”?

        Reply to Comment
    7. The word put to the media by the police at the outset was an attempt to slander the Abu Khdeir family and Mohammed Abu Khdeir by claiming he was the victim of an honor killing because he was gay. That was an attempt to turn this crime from being a hate crime or a “nationalist” murder into one of those nothing to see here, kooky Palestinian/Arab/Muslim honor killing things.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Here is what the Israel police told the media, as reported by the NY Times on July 2, 2014, the date of the kidnapping and murder:

        “Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said the police received a report early Wednesday of a teenager being forced into a vehicle in Beit Hanina, a Palestinian area of East Jerusalem. The police IMMEDIATELY put up roadblocks to try to locate the vehicle. An hour later, Mr. Rosenfeld said, a body was found in a forest near the entrance to the city.

        “We are checking if there is a connection,” he said, adding that the police were looking into possible criminal or nationalistic motives for the killing, including the suspicion that it may have been a revenge attack by Israelis.
        ….

        The police beefed up their presence in Jerusalem after receiving the report, and helicopters could be heard in the air.”

        Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the murder as did Nir Barkat. Netahyahu promised that Israel would arrest the killers. Just 4 days later the police had captured the perpetrators. This is a case of exemplary police action and execution of their duties.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Simon

      The police and Shabak did everything they could to find his murderers and they found them in very short a time, so I do no think they’re that bad.

      The issue is more that of the courts and of the government – will his murderers pay for their crime or be declared mentally insane?

      Reply to Comment

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