Israel’s defense ministry on Thursday ruled that a Palestinian teen murdered earlier this month, allegedly as retribution for the death of three Israeli youth, counts as “a victim of hostile action.” This determination ups the stakes for the three suspects indicted Thursday, as they will now be tried for committing an act of terror.
Mohammed Abu Khdeir was forced into a car early on the morning of July 2, as clashes between hardline Jewish-Israelis on one side and Arab-Israelis and Palestinians on the other continued to rage across Jerusalem. Hours later, his body was found charred and showing clear signs of violence. A later autopsy would show that Khdeir was burned alive. Israeli police assumed from the start that the crime was racially-motivated, a belief that panned out with the arrest of six suspects three later. In confessing the crime, three of those arrested went so far as to reenact the crime, showing police the exact route taken from where they kidnapped Khdeir to the forested spot where his body was later found.
Thursday’s ruling from the Defense Ministry codifies a belief that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon expressed the day the suspects were captured. “These debased murderers don’t represent the Jewish people or its values, and they must be treated as terrorists,” Ya’alon said. “We will not allow Jewish terrorists from our midst to disrupt the fabric of the many different communities in the state of Israel, and to harm innocents just because they are Arabs.” In practice, the decision “means that Abu Khdeir’s family will get benefits from the state of Israel and he should be on the list of names on Israel’s Memorial Day for victims of terror attacks, from now on,” the Jerusalem Post explained.
The decision also came on the same day the suspects — one adult, age 29, and two 16 year-old teenagers — were officially indicted in the murder of Khdeir. Two of the suspects are also charged with incitment for their role in the attempted kidnapping of a seven-year old Palestinian girl, Mussa Zalum, a day before Khdeir’s death. “The indictment that was filed details a grave and shocking act, perpetrated against a background of racism, against an innocent teenager,” Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said in a statement.
Even right-wing members of Israeli politics were quick to spurn Khdeir’s murder, especially after Jewish ultra-nationalists were arrested in connection to the crime. The teen’s murder was “despicable, immoral and anti-Jewish,” according to Israeli Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home Party, and a proponent of increasing Jewish settlements. “We do not distinguish between acts of terrorism, and we will react harshly against both. We do not distinguish between forms of incitement,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press-conference on the day of the arrests. “As I condemn the calls of death to Arabs, I condemn calls of death to Jews.”
Khdeir’s death — and the subsequent beating of his Palestinian-American cousin Tariq Abu Khdeir — has been a flashpoint amid the now 10-day long trade of rockets and airstrikes between Hamas and Israel. On Wednesday, four Palestinian children were killed in a bombing strike as they played on a beach in Gaza, drawing widespread international outcry. Photos of the slain children, much like those of the pictures the wounds Israeli police gave Khdeir, have become a rallying cry for those seeking to end the Israeli campaign against Hamas.
A brief respite in the fighting was organized on Thursday to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza to care for those injured during Israeli bombings. According to the United Nations, 77 percent of the deaths caused so far in the bombing have been civilians, and 1,585 Palestinians have been wounded during Operation: Protective Edge. The five-hour ceasefire, one hour shorter than the one-sided pause seen on Tuesday, managed to hold the entire length of the agreement between the two sides. At 3:00 on the dot, the first rocket flew towards Israel. Within the next hour, the first airstrike had hit Gaza.