I met Suha Abu Khdeir, the mother of Palestinian teenager Mohammed who was kidnapped and burned alive by Israeli settlers in 2014, at the second Palestine Media Forum in Istanbul, Turkey, last month.
The pain was etched on her face as she spoke to me about the importance of taking part in international conferences and events that aim to highlight the plight of Palestinians, even if they were a reminder of what she had lost.
Her presence, she said, was to make sure that her son’s death was not in vain. Suha wanted her son to be more than a news item or a passing headline; she wanted Mohammed to be remembered and wanted his death to mean something and bring about a positive change.
Every Palestinian mother who lost her child “bears a huge responsibility” and “has a message that [she] needs to carry”, she said. Speaking about her son’s tragic death and highlighting the violations committed by Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem was Suha’s way of mitigating the pain of her loss and turning her grief into something positive.
“We are mothers. We have maternal instincts and emotions,” she said, signs of grief still covering her face. “Every mother must maintain these feelings… but she has to also stay strong in order to deliver her message and her child’s message.”
Indeed, Mohammed’s case made international news and garnered support for Palestinian rights. A study by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, found that 85 per cent of investigations into crimes allegedly committed by Israelis against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are closed without anyone being prosecuted. Of the small number of cases that result in prosecution, only one-third of those accused are convicted. In Mohammed’s case, sentences were handed down against the perpetrators.
Although his lawyers had launched a last-minute insanity plea, an Israeli court last month handed down a life sentence to Yosef Haim Ben-David, the ringleader of the Jewish gang who kidnapped 16-year-old Mohammed from an East Jerusalem street in the early hours of 2 July 2014 and took him to a forest where they beat him, doused him with petrol and set him on fire. The court also ordered him to pay 150,000 shekels ($39,000) to Mohammed’s family.
His two other Jewish accomplices were sentenced in February, one to life in prison and the other to a 21-year term.
Suha’s voice shook, the tears not far from following, as she recounted her son’s death: “If my son was martyred in any other way I can at least say he’s no different from other youth, but my son was burned alive.”
“May no mother have to go through it,” she added. Tears crept down her face as she thought of what he had to go through knowing there was nothing she could do to help or save him.
Haaretz reported that residents of the East Jerusalem district of Shuafat had complained to the police that Jewish men had tried to abduct a nine-year-old boy in the neighbourhood two days before Mohammed’s murder. The inaction of the police, they assumed, has later enabled Mohammed’s abduction and murder. It later emerged that Ben-David and his two accomplices were the ones who had tried to kidnap the nine-year-old boy two days earlier.
One year after Mohammed’s death, a Palestinian toddler named Ali Dawabsheh and his parents were killed in a firebombing attack by Jewish extremists in the occupied West Bank village of Duma, leaving behind one survivor, four-year-old Ahmed.
“If the court had convicted Mohammed’s killers quickly, the killing of the Dawabsheh family could have been prevented,” Mohammed’s father said.
Suha showed me a necklace which hangs around her neck, on it is a print of Mohammed’s face. She told me that Mohammed was always laughing, and that is the image she wants to preserve of him.
“Mohammed is always with me,” she said as she wiped away her tears, “I always take my strength from Mohammed.”
Mohammed has become a symbol for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and his mother, the embodiment of the strength and determination of Palestinian women.