Thousands of Palestinians converged on an East Jerusalem neighborhood Friday, despite Israeli police checkpoints and barricades, to attend the funeral of a teenager killed in what they believe was a revenge attack by Israelis.
The killing of Mohammed Abu Khudair, 16, and the burning of his body drew strong reaction from Palestinians in Shoufat, the neighborhood where he lived. Young people took to the streets immediately after hearing about the incident and clashed with Israeli police. Dozens of Palestinians were hurt in the clashes, and several were arrested.
Tensions have risen sharply in recent days. Mohammed’s body was found Wednesday. The bodies of three Israeli teenagers had been found Monday in a West Bank field, 18 days after they were apparently kidnapped and shot to death while hitchhiking. Israeli officials have accused the militant group Hamas of being responsible for the deaths of the Israelis.
A relative of Mohammed's said the youth was sitting on a fence outside his home when a car did U-turn in front of him. Someone called him over and then forced him into the car.
Mohammed's father, Hussein, said police did not allow him to see the body of his son, and later told him that he could get it after an autopsy on condition that it be buried at night to avoid an outbreak of violence.
"I told the police I will not take his body unless I can give him a proper burial as a martyr and in broad daylight," the father said.
Israeli officials quickly condemned the killing, but Hussein Khudair said he didn’t think Israeli police were taking it seriously. "Instead of going to arrest the ones who did this to him, they asked us questions about him and about his school," he said. "If our son was an Israeli, they would have arrested his killers in minutes. But because he is Arab, they did not arrest anyone."
Mohammed's body arrived in his hometown shortly after midday. The body was wrapped in the Palestinian flag and carried on the shoulders of people who had been waiting for it since the early hours of the day.
The main street in Shoufat already looked like a battlefield. Stones littered the street. Trash bins, barricades and burned tires made it an obstacle course. The damage to a recently completed light rail track, cables and stations was extensive.
At Mohammed's two-story house, a large picture of the slain teenager was hung on the wall.
The charred body was placed in an open coffin but, because it was wrapped in the Palestinian flag, not visible. People carried the body through neighborhood streets and, after prayers, took it to the cemetery on the outskirts of town where Mohammed was buried.
Israeli police kept at a distance but had blocked entrances to Shoufat to prevent people from reaching it. Nevertheless, thousands were on hand for the funeral.
After the burial, Palestinian youths resumed their clashes with the police.
"They killed our friend and now they have to pay for it," said one masked youth who would not give his name for fear of being arrested.
Thousands of police also were deployed in Jerusalem and at sensitive points throughout the country. Palestinian youths clashed with police in several other East Jerusalem neighborhoods, particularly the Old City.
Abukhater is a special correspondent.