The abduction and killing of a Palestinian teenager whose burned body was found in a Jerusalem forest on Wednesday further poisoned relations between Israelis and Palestinians and prompted international outrage as the police investigated the death as a possible Israeli revenge killing.
The death of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, 16, came a day after the burial of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and killed in the occupied West Bank last month. The killing of the teenager set off fierce riots in the ordinarily quiet and relatively well-to-do East Jerusalem neighborhood where he lived, threatening to ignite broader unrest and underlining deep fissures in Israeli society.
The abductions and killings of the Israeli and Palestinian teenagers raised the specter of individual vendettas within the broader conflict, making it all the more personal. Both sides, while angry and grieving, seemed stunned by the turn of events, in which each side sees itself as both victim and perpetrator.
While Israeli officials said they were still investigating the death of the teenage Palestinian, including possible criminal motives, the killing followed passionate calls for retribution on a Facebook page named “The People of Israel Demand Revenge” that quickly gathered 35,000 “likes” and included pictures of soldiers posing with their weapons. The page was taken down after two days.
The latest killing seemed to set off introspection among many Israelis who only a day earlier nursed their grievances over the killings of the three Israeli teenagers. The justice minister, Tzipi Livni, reacted harshly to the public calls for revenge and said if Muhammad was the victim of a reprisal killing it amounted to “an act of terrorism.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday vowed to hold accountable those who killed the three young men in the West Bank, pointing a finger at the Palestinian militant group Hamas. On Wednesday, after the body of the Palestinian teenager was found in the woods, the prime minister called on Israelis to obey the law, and asked investigators to quickly look into what he called “the abominable murder.”
… The two events exposed the extent to which parts of each side have dehumanized the other. After the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers last month, messages posted on social networks by Palestinians celebrated the capture of “three Shalits,” in reference to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas militants in Gaza who was eventually released in exchange for 1,027 prisoners.
A 17-year-old created the Facebook group calling for revenge for the kidnapping of the three Israelis, and an Israeli blogger, Ami Kaufman, pointed to a photograph submitted to the Facebook group by two smiling girls who held a sign reading, “Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values!”
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority strongly condemned the killing of the Israelis. And Yoaz Hendel, a former director of communications for Mr. Netanyahu, expressed dismay after the death of Muhammad.
“It is unbelievable how a few hundred racist Jews can cause so much damage to an entire country,” Mr. Hendel wrote on his Facebook page in Hebrew. “The results of the investigation into the death of the boy are already unimportant. After pictures of the mob shouting ‘Death to Arabs,’ the damage is done.””
– The New York Times, "Arab Boy’s Death Escalates Clash Over Abductions"