Muhammad Abu Khdeir woke early, ate breakfast with his mother Suha at 3:30 a.m., grabbed a water bottle and headed out the door to the large mosque to pray.
His last words to Suha last Wednesday morning were, “Mom, I am going.”
A small, slight teen, who looked younger than his 16 years, he walked up the small stairwell to the main thoroughfare in Shuafat, just around the corner, and sat on a stone stairwell outside his family’s store and waited for the mosque to open.
As he sat there, he was abducted, forced into a car, taken to the nearby forest and burned to death. Police have arrested seven Jewish Israelis in connection with the murder, who will be prosecuted as terrorists.
This Tuesday, his family sat outside their home in Shuafat, mourning his death and shocked by its extreme violence.
His family described a funny and friendly teenager who loved dancing and soccer and who planned to spend his summer learning to drive.
His father Hussein sat in a large mourning tent, with walls of printed cloth tapestries bearing a large poster of Muhammad. Dozens of male mourners sat with him on plastic chairs that had been set up in rows.
In the small patio outside the home, a smaller circle of women, including Muhammad’s mother Suha, sat under a grape arbor. Many wore cloth-head covering and were fasting for the Ramadan holiday.
Since her son’s death, Suha said, she has barely ate or slept. She spoke with The Jerusalem Post
in Arabic through the help of her cousin, Naimah Abu Khdeir, an American- Palestinian from Texas who relocated to Jerusalem.
“When he died, I felt like my life was over,” said Suha, of her son, who was her third youngest child out of seven.
“There is no bigger loss for a mother than to lose her son,” she said.
Suha wore a black robe and a bright blue patterned cloth over her head, covering her hair. At times her eyes welled with tears as she spoke, as if it was almost too painful to interact.
But the tears were broken by sudden smiles as she described her son.
“You will never find anyone like Muhammad, he was a special child.”
She and Naimah explained that Muhammad would have turned 17 in October. A good student, who was studying technology, he would have entered his senior of high school in the fall.
Outside of school, he was a member of a Dabke dance troop that performed at weddings, graduations and ceremonies, they said, adding that in his free time, he would often kick a soccer ball with the smaller kids in the neighborhood, and that he had his eyes glued to the World Cup games in Brazil.
During the summer, he planned to learn to drive and dreamed of owning his own car. He had already filled out the application form for the written theory test, they said.
But it was his humor and easy way with people that drew everyone to him, from small children to seniors, they said.
“Out of all her seven children, he was the joker,” Naimah said. “He drove us crazy, but in a good way,” adding that whenever his mother was mad or sad, he would joke with her or deliberately drive her crazy, just to make her laugh.
He would tease her and playfully punch her in the shoulder, recalled Suha as she felt her arm in the place where he would often touch it.
She smiled at that memory and again as she spoke of how much he loved food.
“As soon as he would get out of school, he would call and say, ‘mom, what are you cooking today?’” recalled Suha.
Much of the food he liked was typical teenage fare, such as pizza and spaghetti, she said.
Like his mother and many others in his family, religion was important to him.
Suha said she taught him to fast on Ramadan when he was already five, and that since then he has always observed it.
Both Suha and Naimah said that he was so alive, is hard to fully comprehend that he is now gone.
“It is still shocking to all of us, we can’t believe that out of all of us, it was Muhammad,” she said, showing the Post the spot from which he was kidnapped.
Security cameras from the stores on the street caught the entire incident on video, Naimah said as she stood by the same stone stairs outside the store where Muhammad had sat.
In the bright light of day, with cars whizzing by, it had the appearance of an open and safe spot.
The fact that he was taken from such a central spot in the neighborhood has frightened Shuafat residents, making them feel as if nowhere in their community is safe, Naimah said.
Last Wednesday, around 3:30 a.m., Muhammad sat there speaking with friends who passed by as he waited for the mosque to open. A white car was parked a short distance away, Naimah said.
A dark or grayish car drove down the street, stopped when the driver saw Muhammad, and then reversed back down the street and parked behind the white car. Two young men came out of the car, leaving the driver in the vehicle. They went up to Muhammad and spoke with him, Naimah said.
The black car then drove slowly up to Muhammad and the two men suddenly shoved him into the car, which sped off, running through red lights on the street, she said.
“Because he was so close to the mosque, some people saw what happened.
They heard his screams and they tried to follow him but they [the kidnappers] were long gone,” she said.
Among them was a cousin of Muhammad’s, who then knocked on the door of the teenager’s home to tell his parents that a boy had been taken and that he worried it was Muhammad.
His mother immediately asked him to look in the mosque to see if he was there.
She also called her son’s cellphone, but it was turned off, Naimah said. So his parents knew immediately that it was their son who had been taken.
“His phone is always on. He is always on Facebook. He is always playing games. He is always talking to his friends,” Naimah said.
As he sat in the mourning tent, Hussein said that he had been busy getting ready to go the mosque when he heard of his son’s kidnapping.
“I felt like my feet were about to give way,” he said.
Muhammad’s aunt, Hana, said she started screaming when her husband told her the news.
Her husband, she said, was the first one to see Muhammad’s burned body after police found it in the forest.
“When he spoke about the body he started crying. He said it was unbelievable,” recalled Hana. Her husband said to her, “You can’t imagine, Hana, how cruelly he was treated.”
But the violence against their family did not end with the death of Muhammad. When news of his death hit the neighborhood, riots broke out around their home and Shuafat residents clashed with the police.
Evidence of the violence was still visible on Tuesday, where the wall of a building across the street was still black from fires that burned and glass and stones still littered the streets.
Muhammad’s cousin Tariq, who was visiting from Florida, was beaten unconscious by the police during a riot on Thursday.
Hana held up her leg to show the bruise where a rubber bullet fired by police on Wednesday hit her as she stood on the patio, below street level, outside Muhammad’s home.
“We were standing here waiting here for news of Muhammad and a rubber bullet hit me,” she said.
A cousin, who had moved to Jerusalem earlier this year from California, also named Muhammad, said he saw the shooting and wanted to go help her, but initially police would not let him go near the house.
He explained that he held his hands up, to show that he was harmless, but the police still pointed a gun at him.
Suha said she wants justice for her son and said she has heard that the police arrested suspects in his murder.
“It helps a little bit,” she said, “but not a lot because it doesn’t bring Muhammad back.”
As she spoke, she was often interrupted by women who shook her hand and kissed her on the cheek.
They told her to be strong and that her son was a martyr.
One woman, who had never met Muhammad, said her daughter “dreamed she saw Muhammad in heaven.”