SHUAFAT, East Jerusalem — Young men galvanized by the brutal murder of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive, are in open revolt in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat. They are clashing with Israeli police with a ferocity not seen since the second Intifada. The streets are littered with rocks and glass shards of street fighting. The light rail line that links West Jerusalem with Israeli settlements in the east of the city has been trashed.
They have seized on the death of Abu Khdeir as inspiration for a revolt that already is spreading and could, if it gets much worse, lead to the eruption of a new, third intifada.
Residents of Shuafat, which is flanked by Jewish settlements and cut off by Israel’s separation wall from the West Bank, see the killing as part of an escalation in the practice of “price tag” attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers and hard-line nationalists who want to make them pay for any attacks on Israelis anywhere in Israel or the territories.
On Sunday, Israeli authorities announced that they had taken six Jewish suspects into custody in the Abu Khdeir case. They were variously described as “extremists,” “nationalists,” and “youths” in the Israeli press.
Although some questions have been raised among the conspiracy-minded in Israel and the United States suggesting the murder of Abu Khdeir was the work of a Palestinian faction out to raise the level of violence, there is nothing to support this.
The long record of Israeli nationalist extremists is one of repeated provocations and violence meant to make their presence permanent in the occupied territories. One of the most infamous attacks was the extremist Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron. Another was the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
More likely, those Palestinians who wanted to spark the kind of crisis Palestinians and Israelis now face believed they could do just that when they kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers last month. The violence of occupation and resistance does not require conspiracies. It is all too predictable.
Outside the bakery of Akram Shahmeh, 42, rocks are flying and tires are burning. Israeli tear gas hangs in the air and rubber bullets cut through it. People are fed up with Israel treating Palestinian blood as cheaper than Jewish blood, says Shahmeh: “Abu Khdeir is the final straw.”
The graphic police beating and arrest of 15-year-old Tarek Abu Khdeir, Mohammad’s cousin and a U.S. citizen of Palestinian descent, compounded that ferocious anger. He had gone from the funeral tent of Mohammad and into the midst of the street fighting.
Fatah, the Palestinian faction governing the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority (PA), distributed leaflets calling for action. But most of those who have taken to the streets are doing so in spite of Palestinian political factions, not because of them.
“Mohammad has become a symbol for us all, we have to do something,” says another cousin of the slain teen, who also is named Mohammad. The Palestinian Authority “does nothing for us, they just help the Israelis,” he said.
“It makes Fatah feel good when it doesn’t do anything,” Shahmeh added. He sees PA President Mahmoud Abbas blaming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Abu Khdeir’s killing as mere lip service. The statement was an echoing of Netanyahu’s blame of Abbas and Palestinian political reconciliation with Hamas in Gaza for the murder of the three Israeli teens.
Eyal Yifrach, 19; Naftali Frenkel, 16; and Gilad Shaer, also 16, were abducted and slain as they were hitchhiking by Kfar Zion, a West Bank settlement near Hebron where the three studied. Their deaths set off a national crisis in Israel and passionate demands for revenge. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners immediately called for an expansion of settlements to punish Palestinians, while many Israelis demanded collective punishment to teach “them” a lesson.
Netanyahu promised retaliation in his speech to mourners at the funeral for the three. Tens of thousands, mostly from the settlements, gathered in Israel for the funeral while groups of Israelis in Jerusalem clashed with police and Palestinian residents as they chanted “death to Arabs.”
“We need to show Hamas that we are strong,” said 17-year-old Tal Shaul from Yakir, a settlement near the Ariel block in the West Bank, at the end of the funeral. As she prepares to do her mandatory army service next year she is resolute about what Israel should do. “We need to build more [settlements] to show them we aren’t leaving.”
Her friend Elad Duggen, also 17, directed his anger at Hebron, home of the suspects in the killing. “I want to serve as [a member of the undercover security forces] in Hebron and show them,” he said. The two agreed there is a need for further Israeli military action in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel’s vast three-week incursion into the West Bank already has resulted in the arrest of over 600 Palestinians and the death of six. West Bank settlers continue to engage in “price tag” violence, while the Israeli Army has demolished the family homes of the Israeli teens’ suspected killers.
It’s the resentment of collective punishment and the many ways Israel inflicts it that has helped turned Shuafat’s grief into a national Palestinian wound, sparking riots on the West Bank side of the wall and in the towns of Israel’s Arab citizens, who are furious about systemic discrimination.
It is little consolation to the Palestinians that arrests have been made in Abu Khdeir’s case. "They need to treat them the way they treat us,” Abu Khdeir’s mother, Suha, told the Israeli daily Haaretz. “They need to demolish their homes and round them up, the way they do it to our children.”