Unwelcomed At First, Israelis Mourn Palestinian Teen's Death With His Family

Family members of slain Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khadier said they didn't want an Israeli condolence visit. But the Israelis arrived anyway. The scene went from anger to tears.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Not for years has Israel seen the kind of violence that unfolded overnight.

MONTAGNE: Hamas claimed responsibility for two rockets fired at Tel Aviv. Both rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.

INSKEEP: Israel says it has struck more than 160 targets in Gaza. Officials in Gaza say at least three dozen Palestinians have been killed this week.

MONTAGNE: Palestinians and Israelis are profoundly suspicious of one another, which makes an encounter that took place yesterday all the more surprising. NPR's Ari Shapiro was there.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Shufat is a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, where the Abu Khdeir family lives. Their teenage son was kidnapped and murdered, apparently in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teens. The tent where the family sits in mourning is full of plastic chairs. Banners show the face of a slight boy with big eyes - their murdered son, Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Yesterday afternoon, a group of Israelis planned to show up and express their support for the Palestinian family. Half an hour after they were scheduled to arrive, Abu Khdeir's uncle, Walid, tells us he's glad they didn't come.

WALID ABU KHDEIR: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: He says we, the Abu Khdeir family, have decided not to receive any Israelis. I ask him why and he says people are trying to distort the family's image - use us for political gain. Then a bus stops at the street corner. A huge group of Israelis have just pulled up in a tour bus and people are arriving - some wearing yarmulkes, some wearing headscarves. They are young and old, wearing sunglasses and flip-flops or somber button up shirts and slacks. The murdered teenager's uncle stiffly stands to greet his visitors. He tells me his culture of hospitality compels him to greet these guests warmly.

W. ABU KHDEIR: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: I am an Arab, he says, as long as they are in my house, I cannot turn them back. They are welcome in my house. A cousin, Nihaya Abu Khdeir, stands to the side. She says she has mixed feelings.

NIHAYA ABU KHDEIR: We have our culture and our respects. We can't just tell them to go, even if we want them to.

SHAPIRO: So the Israelis sit awkwardly in the plastic chairs. Matan Ben-Or says this is his way of coping with the violence that's been growing for the last few weeks.

MATAN BEN-OR: I'm just here - I'm here basically just to say sorry in front of the family and that's the truth, at the end.

SHAPIRO: Nena Leibel is a teacher.

NENA LEIBEL: I personally think that any time one person does something good for another person this world is a little better.

SHAPIRO: But do you ever feel like you're just shouting into the wind?

LEIBEL: No, I think that nothing gets lost.

SHAPIRO: She brought dates and coffee as a gift for the family. But one of Abu Khdeir's aunts told her, I don't want anything from you. So she hangs onto them.

LEIBEL: I don't feel insulted or anything. I understand very well how she feels. You know, I cannot put myself into this family's situation.

SHAPIRO: Behind a gate to the side of the house, women of the Abu Khdeir family sit in a shade of a grape arbor. Here, too, a line of Israeli women are waiting to offer condolences.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Screaming in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: Don't let them in, screams a relative through an open window. I told you not to let them in. But the women sit. Ruth Danziger traveled here from far outside of Jerusalem to bring a message about the men who killed the Palestinian boy.

RUTH DANZIGER: These are extreme people who do not represent us.

SHAPIRO: Is it a difficult time to extend a hand like this, when people are firing rockets at each other on the other side of the country?

DANZIGER: Maybe, maybe. I think the peace will come from the people and not from our leaders.

SHAPIRO: In the center of the grape arbor, Mohammed Abu Khdeir's mother, Suha, sits, weeping over the loss of her son. Many of the Israeli women around her are crying, too. She speaks Arabic to my interpreter, who translates.

SUHA ABU KHDEIR: (Through translator) I want them to support me. (Arabic spoken).

SHAPIRO: I want them here, she says through tears. I want these women to support me. We leave the mourners. And as we're walking away, Nena Leibel, the teacher, comes up and grabs us. She says she has something to tell us about her gift for the family.

LEIBEL: My dates and coffee were accepted. And I even was hugged and kissed.

SHAPIRO: Really? She nods, laughing and also crying. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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