Hundreds of Israeli Arabs took to the streets in the capital on Wednesday to riot after a 17-year-old boy from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat was found brutally murdered in the Jerusalem Forest.
Officers found Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s partially burned corpse shortly after residents of the upscale Arab Beit Hanina neighborhood notified police they had seen a young man being forced into a black vehicle early on Wednesday morning.
The killing took place after scores of right-wing protesters marched through part of downtown Jerusalem on Tuesday, rioting and demanding revenge for the June 12 murders of yeshiva students Gil- Ad Shaer, 16, Eyal Yifrah, 19, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, whose funerals were held earlier that afternoon. Tuesday’s riot resulted in more than 50 arrests.
Just after noon on Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Office issued a statement saying Abu Khdeir’s killing was a “reprehensible murder.”
Netanyahu asked Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch to ensure that law-enforcement works as quickly as possible to investigate the boy’s death.
The prime minister called “on all sides not to take the law into their own hands,” and remarked that “Israel is a nation of laws and everyone must act according to the law.”
The Palestinian Authority charged that Jewish extremists had killed Abu Khdeir in an act of revenge for the murder of the three Israeli youths.
The PA called on the government to take immediate measures “against the racist and murderous actions carried out by settler gangs.”
“We condemn this crime and call for international protection for our people, and not to leave them at the mercy of the settlers, who are protected by the occupation army,” the PA leadership said in a statement published in Ramallah.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas demanded that Netanyahu condemn the killing of the Arab teenager, “the same way we condemned the abduction and killing of the three settlers.”
Aharonovitch said that despite following a number of promising leads, it was not yet possible to determine the motive for the murder.
During a meeting to update the prime minister on Wednesday evening, Aharonovitch added that additional investigative teams have been assigned to the case, and urged the public to show restraint.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld echoed Aharonovitch’s sentiments.
“We are investigating whether it was nationalistically motivated or criminal right now,” he said. “Police forensics teams are carefully examining the body and the area of the forest where it was found to search for evidence of who may have done this.”
Though the cause of Abu Khdeir‘s death remains unannounced, Rosenfeld said the boy’s body had significant burn marks. The spokesman added that police are investigating previous attempts to kidnap members of Abu Khdeir’s family, stemming from a personal dispute.
“It is possible this is a personal or family-related incident,” he said. “We are not ruling anything out.”
Despite the police’s contention that the murder may not have been nationalistically motivated, City Councilman Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio in the municipality, said there is no question as to the motivation.
“It’s clear that it’s revenge,” he said by phone. “It’s a political and terrorist action carried out by the right wing.”
As word of the murder spread in the media, Rosenfeld said rioting ensued in the northern Shuafat and Beit Hanina neighborhoods, with significant damage being reported to three light rail stations, forcing police to close roads to both neighborhoods and suspend train service there north of the Ammunition Hill station.
Dozens of police units were dispatched to the areas, where pipe bombs were reportedly detonated. Police said the Arab rioting affected the Temple Mount, which was subsequently closed to the public.
Rosenfeld said police used non-lethal force, including tear gas and stun grenades, to disperse the rioters. No arrests or serious injuries were reported, he said.
After the teenager’s family identified the corpse, Dmitri Diliani, a senior PA official, accused the government of complicity in the murder.
“The Israeli government bears responsibility for Jewish terrorism and for the kidnapping and murder in occupied Jerusalem,” Diliani told Reuters.
Meanwhile, less than 24-hours after burying their son Naftali, the Fraenkel family issued a statement to the media.
“We do not know exactly what happened overnight in east Jerusalem. The police are investigating the matter. But if it turns out that an Arab youngster was killed for nationalistic reasons, then that is terrifying and shocking. There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder, no matter what the age or nationality is. There is no justification, forgiveness or atonement for such a murder,” said the statement that was sent out through Naftali’s uncle, Yishai Fraenkel.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, in a statement on Wednesday morning, condemned the “horrible and barbaric murder.”
“This is not our way, and I am fully confident that our security forces will bring the perpetrators to justice,” he said. “I call on everyone to exercise restraint.”
Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel came out harshly against the killing of the youth.
“The murder of a young man and burning his body is a disgusting act,” he said. “I hope the police use all means to find the murderers as quickly as possible and to brings them to justice.”
Khaled Abu Toameh and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.