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As Threat of Renewed War Grows, Families of Murdered Israeli, Palestinian Teens Mourn Together

Israeli-American teen Naftali Fraenkel (L) and Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir (R).

Israeli-American teen Naftali Fraenkel (L) and Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir (R).

The families of two murdered teenagers —one Israeli, the other Palestinian — have discovered solace from an unlikely source: each other.

The Jewish Daily Forward reports relatives of Naftali Fraenkel, the 16-year-old Israeli-American kidnapped and murdered along with two other teens by suspected Palestinian resistance fighters, and family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old Palestinian teen burned to death by suspected Israeli extremists, have mourned together by phone and in person.

On Sunday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat posted on Facebook about an “emotional and special telephone conversation between two families that have lost their sons.”

While visiting the Fraenkel family home in Nof Ayalon, Barkat met Hussein Abu Khdeir, Mohammed’s father, and lamented the teen’s murder, which he called “barbaric.” The mayor suggested that Abu Khdeir speak with Yishai Fraenkel, Naftali’s uncle, who recently said that “the life of an Arab is equally precious to that of a Jew.”

“Blood is blood and murder is murder, whether that murder is Jewish or Arab,” Fraenkel had said.

Khdeir and Fraenkel then spoke by telephone, reportedly comforting each other.

“We expressed our deep empathy with their sorrow, from one bereaved family to another bereaved family,” said Fraenkel, according to the Times of Israel. “I think it’s very good that they seem to have found the culprits [of Khdeir’s murder],” he added. “We expressed our absolute disgust with what had happened. He accepted our statements, it was important for him to hear it.”

Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, who chairs the religious council in the Gush Etzion settlement cluster, organized a separate visit of Palestinians from Hebron in the occupied West Bank to the Fraenkel home.

When asked why they had come, one of the Palestinians said that “things will only get better when we learn to cope with each other’s pain and stop getting angry at each other.”

“Our task is to give strength to the family and also to take a step toward my nation’s liberation. We believe that the way to our liberation is through the hearts of Jews,” the unnamed mourner added.

“I see before me a Jewish family who has lost a son opening the door to me,” he said. “That’s not obvious. It touched my heart and my nation.”

But not everyone was in the mood for reconciliation, with Israelis and Palestinians alike bracing for a renewed wave of violence as Hamas militants stepped up rocket attacks against southern and central Israel. In response, Israel declared Operation Protective Edge, calling up 40,000 military reservists and attacking around 150 targets inside Gaza. At least 16 Palestinians have been killed; it is currently unknown how many of the dead are resistance fighters and how many are civilians.

The United States has condemned Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.

“We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire inside of Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a press briefing. “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.”

Palestinian militants, who are vastly outgunned by Israeli forces —which receive billions of dollars in annual American military aid — often resort to largely indiscriminate rocket and terror attacks as they attempt to liberate their homeland from nearly half a century of illegal Israeli occupation. Palestinian violence has resulted in repeated Israeli military operations which have claimed tens of thousands of Arab lives.

The crisis has been exacerbated by continued illegal Jewish settler colonization of the occupied West Bank and the construction of what Israel calls a ‘security barrier’ but what critics have dubbed an ‘apartheid wall’ between Israel and the occupied territories.

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