Mohamed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped by suspected Israeli settler extremists and murdered two days ago in revenge for the killings of three Israeli youths in the West Bank. Today, the Palestinian pathologist who participated in the autopsy declared he found smoke in Mohamed’s lungs, meaning he was still breathing and alive when he was set on fire. The finding was that he died by burning.
This particular death in all its horror shows the cold, vicious brutality that is at the heart of today’s Israel. Those who run the country and their policies represent hate and murder and little else. But I don’t want this post to focus on the nihilism of that Israel.
Immolation is a righteous form of martyrdom in Jewish tradition. Rabbi Hanina ben Teradion, tradition tells us, was murdered by the Romans for teaching Torah in violation of an edict. His punishment was to be wrapped in a sacred Torah scroll and burnt alive. The devilishly clever Romans soaked wool in water and covered his heart to prolong his agony. The trick didn’t work since, with his dying breath, he told his students in wonder that he saw the letters of the scroll flying up to heaven.
This is a death that sanctifies God’s name. One of which almost every Jews who knows the story feels proud. Both Palestinian and Jewish traditions accord great respect to martyrdom. While some may quarrel with the term shahid when used in connection with a suicide bombing, there can be no doubt that the murder of this young boy is a profound case of martyrdom.
Recall also the story of Joan of Arc. Her burning at the stake at the hands of English forces helped rally the disorganized, demoralized French troops to throw the English out of France for good.
So those evil villains who murdered Mohamed picked the worst sort of death for him. They thought burning him alive would send a signal of hate to Palestinians. After all, what can more mutilate a body than the disfigurement of burning? But rather his death and the means with which it was carried out, have brought him and his cause great nobility. I only hope Palestinians will not squander this by resorting to further acts of murder of Israeli civilians.
The Fraenkel family too showed great nobility in their own mourning for their murdered son when they called for an end to the blood vengeance. Unfortunately, these Israeli killers flouted the words of the grieving mother. They brought shame to their cause and showed it to be at heart bestial, racist and cruel. Unfortunately, a good deal of that emotion is sloughs off on Israel itself, the “home” (though not literally since they likely live in occupied Palestine) of these killers.
It’s reported that Palestinian eyewitnesses took down the license plate of the getaway vehicle. They also have videotape of the actual abduction. Israel knew within two days of the Hebron kidnapping the identity of the suspected kidnappers. I’m willing to bet the Shabak knows who killed Mohamed. Every day they do not catch them is another day of shame for Israel.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.