Israeli media are all over the place in guessing who is responsible for the kidnap and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.
Haaretz pretends to lay out the facts known so far, and reaches its predictable conclusion:
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.
Clearly, Haaretz‘ speculation is leaning towards a viewpoint that is consistent with the newspaper’s editorial policy of reflexively assuming Jews are guilty.
Just as predictably, Arutz-7 says the opposite, in an article about the all-but-useless CCTV video that was released:
We already know that Mohammed was abducted and bundled into a car by unknown assailants – although initial reports suggested the car was black, as opposed to the light-colored vehicle seen in the video above. And it is clear that the figure said to be Mohammed does not go willingly – matching testimony that he was forced into the vehicle.
But that the men are wandering the streets of an Arab neighborhood late at night, and strike up a conversation with the teen before a waiting car pulls over to pick up the victim, raises the possibility that Mohammed was targeted specifically for one reason or another, as opposed to being randomly picked by Jewish vigilantes.
Such a scenario would fit in with suggestions offered by Moshe Nussbaum, a leading Israeli journalist and police affairs expert who raised questions over the background to the killings.
As reported earlier Thursday by Arutz Sheva, in an interview with Channel 2 Nussbaum noted that not long before Mohammed’s abduction, his parents had reported to police that his younger brother had been the victim of an attempted kidnapping himself.
Bizarrely, while the boy’s mother had told police that “settlers” (who for some reason she was unable to describe further) had attempted the abduction of her nine-year-old boy, his father had insisted that the would-be kidnappers were Arabs.
When police asked the father to file a formal complaint, he said he would, but that he would come down to the police station later on to do so in order to be able to comfort his son first. Yet the father never showed up, despite police contacting him several times subsequently to ask him to file the complaint.
The questions are numerous. Why were two boys from the same family targeted within a short time of one another? Was it a coincidence, or was the family embroiled in a wider familial or criminal dispute which would lead to two of its members being specifically targeted? Were the attackers in the first incident Jewish, or Arab – and why the discrepancy? Why didn’t Mohammed’s father follow up with a complaint?
One former police official who spoke to Arutz Sheva on condition of anonymity Wednesday claimed the Abu-Khder family is well known to police sources in Jerusalem, adding “it’s a problematic family with internal clashes that have been ongoing for many years.”
He asserted that he was “confident that as time passes it will be clarified that the murder was criminal and nothing more.”
But with a gag order still in place over the progress of the investigation it is impossible to say with any certainty whether the murder of Mohammed Abu-Khder was a revenge killing, or something else entirely.
What is clear however, is that in the rush to label the murder as a “revenge” attack, some nagging questions have been left unanswered.
One has to wonder why Haaretz ignores the seemingly crucial fact of a previous kidnap attempt with the same family reported by Channel 2. Notice also that Haaretz relies on Palestinian Arab sources to say that the family has not been involved in any disputes with others, while Arutz-7 quotes an Israeli official (albeit not part of the current investigation) who says the opposite.
As far as the family’s insistence that the kidnappers were “settlers,” this exchange shows how unreliable they are:
“‘Settlers have killed our child,'” they told Ma’ariv‘s Asaf Gabor.
“But after a few questions it became clear that this is based on evidence of friends and a video clip of 10 seconds that barely shows anything,” Gabor said, commenting on the conflicting narratives.
“‘They wore skullcaps?’ I asked the relatives. They answered ‘no.'”
“‘They had beards, tzitzit?'”
“‘What are settlers?’ I asked, and I received unclear answers.”
“‘They fled to Jerusalem, then they are settlers,'” the relatives said.
Now, in a classic case of burying the lede, The Jerusalem Post writes this paragraph in the middle of an article about the current tensions in Jerusalem:
According to police, there have been previous attempts to kidnap members of Abu Khdeir’s family, including his younger sister, stemming from a personal dispute.
This goes way beyond the Channel 2 story. It says that the police have said this directly, and it mentions multiple previous kidnap attempts. If this is true, and now we have multiple reports indicating previous kidnap attempts, then the likelihood that Mohammed Abu Khdeir was coincidentally kidnapped by Israeli Jews who were driving around at 3:45 a.m. goes way, way down.
All the pieces don’t yet add up, of course. The major question, I think, is why an Arab antagonist would bring the kid to a forest within the Green Line and dump the body there. But here one must think that in the light of the murders of the three Jewish teens, this might have been an opportunistic murder that was designed to implicate Jews while sending a separate message to the family.
It’s not like framing someone for a murder is a new concept, and framing an entire people is a lot easier.
(I can find no corroboration for the persistent rumors that Mohammed lived a toeivah lifestyle and that his family wanted him killed for “honor” reasons, and without evidence it is time to lay that rumor to rest.)