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Victim-Shaming And Rumor-Mongering Over Teens’ Deaths Fuels Hate Between Israelis And Palestinians

As clashes continue to erupt, much of the popular narrative behind the deaths of Israeli and Palestinian teens focuses on shifting blame, and spreading lies.

Posted on July 4, 2014, at 11:25 a.m. ET

Just hours after the body of Palestinian boy Muhammed Abu Khudair was found, burned beyond recognition in the Jerusalem forest, there was speculation over his sexual orientation and family feuds.

Ammar Awad / Reuters

Suha, the mother of Mohammed Abu Khudair, calls him a "good boy," often showing journalists photos of him on her phone playing in the neighborhood, or helping the family around the house. Her family was stunned when Hebrew media outlets began running stories just hours after his death claiming that he had been killed because of his sexual orientation, or because her family was involved in some sort of nefarious feud.

"None of this is true," said Suha, clearly disturbed by the rumors. "They want to say dirty things about our son instead of finding who really killed him."

Israeli news sites, including the right-wing Israel National News, ran stories Wednesday, attributed to unnamed retired police officers, which suggested that Abu Khudair's death was criminal, rather than political. The stories spread quickly on social media sites, despite more prominent news sites running stories with senior Israeli officials, who said that the investigation was focusing on the probability that the murder was political, and not criminal.

"It's a moral deniability. Nobody wants to believe that their people could do such a thing," said Khader Abu Masyr, a resident of the east Jerusalem suburb of Shuafat who knows the Abu Khudair family well. "They would rather come up with excuses than admit a Jewish terrorist did this."

Tempers have been running high since three Israeli teens were kidnapped while hitchhiking in the West Bank on June 12. Their bodies were found buried in a field in the southern West Bank city Hebron on Monday of this week. On Wednesday morning, police found the body of Muhammed Abu Khudair, a 16-year-old resident of the East Jerusalem suburb of Shuafat. CCTV footage shows him being forced into a car early that morning.

In Shuafat, most believe that Jewish settlers were responsible for Abu Khudair's death. Clashes between Israeli forces and local youths continued for a third day Friday, as hundreds gathered for Abu Khudair's funeral.

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“The settlers killed him, and they will come back and kill more,” said Mohamed, a 16-year-old who on Wednesday hurled rocks and makeshift Molotov cocktails at Israeli army jeeps and police in Shuafat.

The families of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach are still mourning for their sons, who were buried on Tuesday after their bodies were discovered in a shallow grave in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Lior Mizrahi / Getty

Israeli officials say they are still looking for two suspects, Palestinian residents Marwan Qawashmeh, 29, and Amar Abu Aisha, 32, from Hebron.

In the weeks until the bodies were found, local Palestinian media outlets ran stories which were picked up and spread online suggesting that the kidnapping of the three boys may have been staged, or even a hoax by the boys themselves.

"Many people are saying this is not real, that the boys are probably hiding somewhere, and the Israeli army is using this as an excuse to come in and kill us, to arrest us Palestinians," said Muhammed Katib, a 42-year-old shopkeeper in Hebron. "Show me the evidence that they were kidnapped."

Israeli and Palestinian peace activists held rallies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to call for an end to the violence. But with the latest round of peace talks coming to a stuttering halt after months of recriminations, few official channels remain open.

Ammar Awad / Reuters

"This is what happens when you don't have a peace process. This is what happens when the two sides only speak in hateful words, and incite their own populations to hate," said Gidon Amit, a 22-year-old student and activist from Jerusalem. "The politicians should be held responsible for the dead children - both Israeli and Palestinian - because instead of encouraging peace they have encouraged hatred."

Writing on his Facebook wall, Israeli activist Gershon Baskin, wrote that he had helped relay messages between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to try and reach a ceasefire between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli government. He called on local leaders to try and calm tensions.

"Rockets now fired from Gaza to Israel. One Palestinian boy missing, one Palestinian boy beaten by right wing extremists, rioting in East Jerusalem, Friday Ramadan prayers, funeral for murdered Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The street in Israel and Palestine will drive us to hell unless responsible community leaders stop this mentality of hatred and revenge," wrote Baskin.

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