Residents of the A-Tur neighborhood on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem on Friday prevented the burial of Muhammad Abu al-Hawa, murdered for allegedly selling his house to Jews, in a local cemetery.
The victim's family was eventually forced to bury him in a makeshift cemetery on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.
The body of Abu al-Hawa, a 48-year-old father of seven, was found in Jericho late Wednesday night. He had been shot seven times in the head and chest before his body was torched together with his car. Palestinian Authority policemen delivered the body early Thursday morning to their Israeli counterparts.
Fatah gunmen in Jericho have claimed responsibility for the murder, condemning the victim as a "traitor." In a leaflet, the gunmen threatened to kill any Arab who dares to sell his house to Jews.
Abu al-Hawa was accused of selling his family's three-story building to Elad, a nonprofit Jewish organization that has been purchasing houses in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem for settling Jewish families. Late last month, a number of Jewish families moved into the building and several adjacent apartments, triggering protests by their Arab neighbors.
The decision to prevent the family from burying their son in a Muslim cemetery was taken by local Fatah activists and Islamic religious authorities, who have ruled in the past that anyone who sells property to Jews would be denied the right to be buried among Muslims.
Members of Abu al-Hawa's family insisted over the weekend that he was innocent and vowed to do their utmost to clear his name.
"We are totally convinced that he did not sell the building to Jews," his brother, Mahmoud, told The Jerusalem Post.
He confirmed, however, that his brother had sold three of the four apartments in the building to an Arab businessman from Jerusalem, who apparently later sold it to a Jordan-based investment company that acted as a front for Jewish organizations.
"Muhammad was innocent," he said shortly after burying his brother along with a few male relatives. "He was clearly deceived into thinking that he was selling the apartments to Arabs."
Mahmoud, who has been working with a Jerusalem-based international organization for nearly two decades, said the fact that his brother did not leave the neighborhood after the Jewish families moved in showed that he had nothing to fear.
"He continued to live in A-Tur, saying he will do everything to prove that he was not involved in any deal with the Jewish settlers," he said. "He even went several times to Ramallah and Bethlehem after being summoned by the Palestinian security forces for interrogation."
Another brother, Ibrahim, told the Post that on the day of the murder Muhammad phoned his wife to say that he was on his way to Jericho "to prove to everyone there that he did not sell the apartments to Jews." He said that Muhammad did not say whether he had been summoned by the Palestinian security forces in Jericho for further questioning.
"We don't know exactly why he decided to go to Jericho," he added. "But it was not unusual for him to go there because he has another house in Jericho. He was so confident that he told everyone in the neighborhood that he could easily prove his innocence.
"On the day he was murdered, he told his wife that he had obtained a document from the Palestinian Authority clearing him of any wrongdoing in the case," the brother said. "My brother was murdered for no reason."
Another member of the Abu al-Hawa clan, the largest family in A-Tur, said he did not rule out the possibility that the Arab businessman who bought the apartments from the victim was behind the murder. "We believe that those who sold the houses to the Jews were afraid that Muhammad would reveal their identity," he said. "We hope that those responsible for this tragedy will be punished soon."
Although the family has published a number of advertisements in the Arab media denying that Muhammad had sold the apartments to Jews, many A-Tur residents believe that the victim was still guilty. "He shouldn't have sold the houses to suspicious characters in the first place," said a local taxi driver. "He should have been more careful."
Muhammad's widow and children are still living in a ground-floor apartment in the same building, with their new Jewish neighbors occupying the three upper levels. The building is located in one of the most strategic areas on the Mount of Olives because it overlooks the Temple Mount. Arab residents believe that this was the main reason why Jews showed interest in the building. A number of apartments in nearby buildings have also been purchased by Elad over the past year.
Muslim religious authorities have repeatedly warned against selling land and houses to Jews. The mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Irikmah Sabri, has also issued a fatwa [religious decree] that calls for executing anyone who sells Arab-owned property to Jews. Dozens of suspected land dealers have been murdered over the past years after being accused of involvement in real estate transactions with Jews.