Area Muslim, Jewish leaders call for end to violence in Israel

07/03/2014 7:14 PM

07/03/2014 11:00 PM

North Texas Jewish and Muslim leaders joined international calls for restraint and a quick end to the violence that erupted in Israel this week after three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were found dead and that escalated when the burned body of a Palestinian youth, seized near his home in east Jerusalem, was found Wednesday.

Thousands attended the funeral of the Israeli youths Tuesday. Israel has blamed Hamas for the abductions and cracked down on the Islamic militant group in the West Bank, triggering rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes in a near-daily cycle of retaliation.

Palestinians believe that Israeli extremists abducted 16-year-old Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir and killed him to avenge the deaths of the Israeli teens.

In east Jerusalem on Thursday, masked Palestinian youths clashed with Israeli security forces for a second day.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to calm the situation, condemning Abu Khdeir’s killing and vowing to find the attackers.

“We don’t know yet the motives or the identities of the perpetrators, but we will. We will bring to justice the criminals responsible for this despicable crime, whoever they may be,” Netanyahu said in a speech celebrating U.S. Independence Day at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. “Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism — they have no place in our democracy.”

In North Texas, rabbis and Islamic leaders echoed Netanyahu’s call for justice for the killers. Several decried the deaths of the teens and called for prayers for peace in the troubled region.

Fort Worth’s newest rabbi, Jordan Ottenstein, associate rabbi at Beth-El Congregation, said he will speak about the violence when he conducts his first service at Beth-El today. The senior rabbi, Ralph Mecklenburger, is on sabbatical.

“I feel that the rage and grief and mourning are really justified,” Ottenstein said. “The terrorists and the murderers must be brought to justice. But I hope, as do many of my colleagues, that it is not a punitive justice against all the Palestinian people.”

Ottenstein, 31, offered condolences to the family of the slain Palestinian youth and said all the killers should be “made to pay for their heinous acts.”

Rabbi Andrew Bloom of Fort Worth’s Congregation Ahavath Sholom said he, too, will speak about the killings during services this week.

“My thoughts about this are not as a politician or a leader of the state of Israel,” said Bloom, a New Jersey native who studied in Israel and spent 2 1/2 years in the Israeli army.

“We need to put the emphasis on what God teaches us — the value of life, the value of dignity, the value of respect for all people regardless of race, religion or nationality.”

Moujahed Bakhach, retired imam of Fort Worth’s Islamic Association of Tarrant County mosque, said both sides need to stop killing innocent youths.

“It’s really sad. They are killing our future,” said Bakhach, who for years joined with local clergy in bringing together Jewish, Christian and Muslim students in conferences to discuss their faiths.

“My wish is that Palestinians and Israelis would stop killing each other. It’s been 60 years now, and we need to get serious about peace in that region.”

How can people here help?

“We can pray, Friday, Saturday, whenever,” for an end to the bloodshed, Bakhach said.

Dr. Basheer Ahmed, a longtime Fort Worth Islamic leader, said he is dismayed because “children are caught in the middle.”

“Both Jewish and Muslim leaders must stand together and come down against this brutality and the malicious acts against children,” Ahmed said.

Rabbi Sidney Zimelman of Fort Worth, formerly of Congregation Ahavath Sholom, is now a chaplain in the Justice Department who ministers to Jewish inmates. “The senseless loss of life of innocent children” is hard to understand, Zimelman said.

“We want to make peace, but you can’t unless you renounce this violence,” he said.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville said the reaction to the events in Jerusalem has been amazing. “My colleagues on Facebook, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation and other organizations expressed their feeling of this sense of loss,” he said.

The killing of the Palestinian youth is as much a tragedy as the slaying of the Israeli teens, Cytron-Walker said.

“I would hope that Israel will do all it can to bring that individual, or those individuals, to justice in the same way they carry out justice against the kidnapping and murder of the three Israelis,” he said.

Imam Zia ul-Haque Sheikh of the Islamic Center of Irving said: “It’s so strange to think how these things can happen in the 21st century. We need to pray for peace on both sides.”

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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