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  • Jose Luis Villegas /

    Aisha Abu Khdair, in the white shawl, and daughter Shams Abu Khdair, center right, receive condolences for the loss of cousin Mohammed Abu Khdeir at Sacramento’s SALAM center on Thursday.

  • Family photo

    Belal Abu Khdeir holds his cousin Muhammed in his arms during a visit to the village of Shufat, Palestine last year.

  • Muhammed Abu Khdeir posted a selfie on his Facebook page.

Sacramento relatives of slain Palestinian teen say he didn’t deserve to be targeted in Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Published: Thursday, Jul. 3, 2014 - 10:47 am
Last Modified: Sunday, Jul. 6, 2014 - 2:24 pm

Muhammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teen who was kidnapped and burned to death Wednesday in Jerusalem, was a sweet, peaceful boy, his relatives in Sacramento said Thursday.

“He loved to tell jokes and riddles; he was never serious. In all the pictures we have of him he was making a goofy face,” said his first cousin Wadha Abukhdeir.

News reports have quoted police as saying they are investigating whether the kidnap and killing of Abu Khdeir, 16, was revenge for the recent murders of three Israeli youths.

“He didn’t ask for this, and he didn’t deserve to be a pawn in this deadly game,” Wadha Abukhdeir said.

She said that during the month of Ramadan, which began Saturday, her cousin and other youths would gather early in the morning at the mosque near their house for Sukar, the predawn meal before morning call to prayer and a day of fasting.

“Three men pulled up in a car and pretended to need direction, then two got out and grabbed him and drove off,” she said.

Some of the kids saw what happened, and families gave chase but couldn’t catch them. An hour after Muhammed’s family called Israeli police, “they found him beaten to death and charred in the forest near a Jewish neighborhood,” Wadha said. “He was burned so badly, his family couldn’t identify him. They had to take a DNA test.”

Wadha Abukhdeir’s young sister, Nada Abukhdeir, 28, visited their cousin in the summer of 2006. “We sometimes called him Mo or Hamuda – he was a funny kid,” recalled Nada, who studied psychology at UC Davis. “I stayed there the entire summer, and we joked around about getting married. He told me he was going to get married soon, and I said, ‘You’re 8 years old, why are you talking about marriage already?’ 

In tears, Nada said, “We told him and his family how great it is in California, that he has to come and visit, and now he’s not going to get the chance.”

The three Israeli teenagers kidnapped last month had also been seen getting into a car. Their bodies were found 18 days later buried in a field in the West Bank, according to news reports. Tens of thousands of mourners turned out for the Israeli teens, two of them 16 and one of them 19. One of the younger victims had dual Israeli American citizenship.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed “We shall not rest” until the killers are caught. He blamed the Palestinian organization Hamas for the killings and launched dozens of airstrikes in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, according to news accounts.

On Thursday evening, members of Abu Khdeir’s family were scheduled to go to the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims mosque, where they worship, to receive condolences and participate in an interfaith vigil. “This Ramadan, we’re encouraging everyone to increase their prayers for peace in the holy land,” said Basim Elkarra, a Palestinian American who serves as director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072.

Read more articles by Stephen Magagnini

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