Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sought to lower Arab-Jewish tensions on Wednesday, calling on Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and law-enforcement agencies to work swiftly to find the perpetrators of the “reprehensible” murder of an Arab youth, and discover their motive.
The charred body of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, 17, from the capital’s Shuafat neighborhood, was found bearing signs of violence near a gas station in the Jerusalem Forest, triggering riots by hundreds of Palestinians across Jerusalem. They threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at police.
Palestinian sources said they believed Abu Khdeir had been kidnapped from the Beit Hanina neighborhood on Tuesday night, claiming that he was the victim of a revenge killing and accusing “Israeli settlers” of murdering him to avenge the abduction and murder of Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel three weeks ago.
Police confirmed that they had received a report of a youth being forced into a car and possibly abducted, but added that they had not yet determined whether the boy’s killing was nationalistic or criminal in nature. Other possible motives raised included an “honor” or clan killing or an Arab gang-related attack.
Tensions have been high since the bodies of the three murdered Israeli teenagers were found on Monday.
Hundreds of Jews marched in downtown Jerusalem on Tuesday while the boys were being buried in Modi’in, and in an ugly display of racism, called for revenge against Arabs. Police arrested more than 50 of them for blocking roads and rioting.
Netanyahu on Wednesday urged all sides to refrain for taking the law into their own hands, noting that Israel “is a nation of laws and everyone must act according to the law.”
Echoing Israeli calls after the yeshiva students were kidnapped, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas placed the onus on Israel for finding those who murdered Abu Khdeir. Abbas also blamed the current atmosphere of tensions in the region on Israel, calling for “real action” to prevent revenge attacks by “settlers.”
The volatile situation prompted police to increase their level of readiness across the country, in particular in “areas of tension” between Arabs and Jews, such as mixed-cities in the Northern and Coastal districts.
Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino said authorities would not allow civilians to take the law into their own hands and he urged the public to exercise restraint.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat strongly condemned the “horrible and barbaric act.”
“This is not our way and I am fully confident that our security forces will bring the perpetrators to justice,” Barkat said. “I call on everyone to exercise restraint.”
Naftali Fraenkel’s family issued an emotional appeal against violence. The family said it would be “horrifying and despicable” if the Arab youth was killed out of nationalist motives to avenge the murders of their 16-year-old son and his two friends.
“There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder,” the bereaved family said.
We agree whole-heartedly. Hate has claimed too many victims. Let us not lower ourselves to the level of the savages who murdered Fraenkel, Shaer and Yifrah.
We must halt racist rampages, assaults against Arab citizens and so-called “price-tag” attacks.
The security forces are entirely capable of identifying and apprehending the murderers of the three yeshiva students, as well as of Abu Khdeir. Let us not interfere in that vital endeavor. This is a time for both sides to appeal for calm, and not to incite violence. It is a time for reasonable people – both Israeli and Palestinian – to join together against our common enemies who seek to destroy any chances of peace.
As President-elect Reuven Rivlin so eloquently put it at Sunday night’s rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, this is the time for religious leaders – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – to make their voices heard.
That call did not come in time to bring the boys home. It is too late to save Fraenkel, Shaer and Yifrah.
And for whatever reason he was killed, it is too late to save Abu Khdeir. But it is not too late to stop the cycle of violence right now, and prevent hate from claiming further victims.