Many of the dozens of Palestinians who have stabbed Israelis over the past six weeks have been youths. Thirteen-year-old Ahmed Manasra, one of the youngest, has become an icon: To Israelis he tried to murder an Israeli kid, while many Palestinians portray him as a victim. Relatives, his school principal and witnesses interviewed by dpa offer a glimpse at the truth and the motivation behind the attacks.
– “I won’t forget the look on his face, a look of murder, of blood – in a 13-year-old kid. I didn’t care in that moment how old he was. It was either me or him,” says shopkeeper Shimi Mizrahi who rushed to the resuce.
The 25-year-old Israeli recounts how he faced the Palestinian boy, “he with his knife raised, I with a stick, less than a metre apart.”
To Israelis, 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra is an attacker who tried to murder an Israeli kid his own age – as well as another in his 20s.
Footage from surveillance cameras shows Ahmed and his 15-year-old cousin Hassan running after the Israeli in his 20s in a white shirt, each with knife-shaped objects in their right hands. The Israeli was seriously wounded. It then shows a 13-year-old Israeli falling from his bike as he is stabbed and seriously injured.
Ahmed and Hassan flee up the road, where the former is hit by a car and overpowered by bystanders, who push him to the ground, while the latter is shot dead by border policemen.
Footage has gone viral on social media of Ahmed lying on a blood stain on the Jerusalem light railway track, crying, his knees bent in a w-shape, as Israeli security forces stand by waiting for an ambulance to arrive. An enraged Israeli bystander shouts insults.
For Palestinians, Ahmed has become a symbol of what some call the third Palestinian uprising, the “knife intifada” or the “intifada of the individuals.”
Since early October, Palestinians have launched dozens of knife attacks against Israelis. Of the over 60 attackers, most have been teenagers or in their 20s.
The October 13 incident in the East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Zeev has become perhaps the most iconic one of the recent wave of violence, marked by much misinformation and propaganda.
This week, fresh footage of a crying Ahmed while being interrogated has also gone viral.
In both cases, he was portrayed in the Palestinian media as a victim and the footage sparked calls for revenge and fresh attacks the following days.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reacted furiously to claims by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Israel had “executed” Ahmed in “cold blood” for no justified reason.
Israel says that it is exactly that type of false information and “incitement” that sparks and perpetuates the violence.
It blames the recent outburst of violence on “wild lies” about Israeli plans, which it denies, to change the status quo at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque.
It has condemned radical Muslim leaders, who brainwash youths to “defend” al-Aqsa by stabbing Jews.
Palestinians blame the desperation that prevails among a new generation.
Violence will come and go in waves, but it will never end as long “as long as there is occupation” and Palestinians feel oppressed, says Ahmed’s uncle, Yasser Mahani, 45, inside the boy’s family home in East Jerusalem’s shabby Beit Hanina neighbourhood, adjacent to well-planned Pisgat Zeev.
“It’s a rebellion,” he says.
At the same time, he says he believes rumours according to which Israel is “fabricating” the knife attacks.
“Many of these kids these days, they’re not involved. They defend themselves. They (the Israelis) put a knife next to them,” he claims, expressing a widespread Palestinian conviction.
He says he also does not believe that Ahmed carried out a knife attack, although four independent first-hand witnesses told dpa they saw the stabbing and the two teens, each with kitchen knives with “blades of about 30 centimetres.”
Still, also Ahmed’s aunt, Taghred Manasra, insists she does not believe the cousins carried out a knife attack, saying they only went out to buy a Sony Playstation game in Pisgat Zeev.
The footage from the security cameras could be fabricated too, she suggests.
But what about the stabbed Israeli boy, who was stabbed in the axillary artery in the armpit as he had his hands on his steering wheel and arrived in hospital with no pulse? “I don’t know about this,” she says, shaking her head.
“Nobody believes that this is what happened. I don’t know much about Hassan. But Ahmed I know very well,” says the 52-year-old, whose youngest son is Ahmed’s class and playmate.
“He is very shy. He’s not even the kind of boy who would even think of doing such a thing.”
The principal of Ahmed’s local New Generation Primary School is doing all he can to give him a good character reference, as the boy sits in Israeli custody. Jerusalem’s District Court this week sent him to a closed juvenile detention centre, pending a trial.
“Ahmed was a quiet student, very much kept himself to himself, not sociable,” says Mazen Jamjoom. He was weak academically, but improving, “so when I heard about this I was surprised,” he says, producing his last test paper, for which he got six out of 10, considered good for him.
But Mizrahi, who saw the stabbing outside the sweet shop he works in and ran outside with a thin, short broomstick to confront the cousins when they bent over the Israeli kid, says he will never forget Ahmed’s face as they stood opposite each other for that brief moment.