JERUSALEM — The fate of a Palestinian boy seized center stage Thursday in the battle of narratives accompanying the recent burst of deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ignited an uproar in Israel after falsely claiming in a televised speech that Israelis had “summarily executed” Ahmed Manasra, when the 13-year-old actually was recovering at an Israeli hospital after he stabbed two Israelis, including a boy his own age.
Palestinians, in turn, were enraged by video showing Ahmed lying in the street, his head bloodied and his legs splayed, as bystanders curse him and shout “Die!” in Hebrew. The images, widely circulated on social media, made no mention of the preceding attack by Ahmed and his cousin Hassan, 15, who was then shot and killed by police Monday.
The case has become a lightning rod for both sides.
Israel has repeatedly accused Abbas of fomenting violence with what it says are incendiary comments.
“Now we have a new big lie. That new big lie is that Israel is executing Palestinians,” Netanyahu said Thursday. Still, he said he would be “perfectly open” to meeting Abbas to address what the Israeli leader said was a wave of incitement.
Abbas, who has long argued that armed attacks on Israelis go against Palestinian interests, has denied the Israeli allegations that he is fomenting unrest. He did not immediately respond to Netanyahu’s offer.
In his speech Wednesday, Abbas said Israel has engaged in excessive force and the “summary execution of our children in cold blood.”
The high-level name-calling highlighted the abyss between the two leaders, at a time when prospects for a return to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations appear nil.
In the past month, eight Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks, most of them stabbings. During the same period, 31 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, including 14 labeled by Israel as attackers, and the others in clashes between stone-throwers and Israeli troops.
Israel has increased security across the country in response to the unrest. On Thursday, the military said it would deploy 300 soldiers in Jerusalem to help police maintain order, guard public transportation and the city’s main streets.
Both sides use social media to promote their official narratives.
Israeli officials have released security camera videos of the attacks, sometimes within minutes. The police, army, Foreign Ministry and prime minister’s office cooperate, collecting clips from Palestinian websites that are seen as promoting violence or searching for Facebook posts from assailants that they say indicated they were about to commit violent acts.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emanuel Nahshon said the strategy is to spread Israel’s messages and complain to popular services about allegedly offensive comment. He said Israel persuaded Google’s YouTube service and Facebook to remove several Palestinian videos.
Palestinian authorities, meanwhile, have focused on releasing amateur video appearing to show Israeli police using excessive force.
The battle also plays out in private Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
On the Palestinian side, social media play a growing role in the conflict. Palestinian media experts say the vast majority of Palestinians between the ages of 12 and 22 use social media.
For the young, social media have taken the place of political factions that were key to organizing major bouts of fighting with Israel in the past.
In this round of violence, Palestinian attacks on Israelis have largely been carried out by individuals with no ties to militant groups. Motives often remain murky, but relatives of assailants have cited as potential triggers both the pressures of life under Israeli occupation and videos seen on social media.
Israeli Facebook users, meanwhile, have been sharing a wide array of posts during the unrest, including videos on how to defend themselves against stabbers, as well as the clips of attacks on Israelis. Some Israelis accuse the media of anti-Israel bias or express anti-Arab sentiment, while others call for coexistence.
Among Palestinians, the video of the wounded Ahmed Manasra has perhaps had the biggest emotional impact.
In the video, the terrified boy is seen lying between the tracks of Jerusalem’s light rail, his legs at a twisted angle after having been struck by a car in the wake of the stabbing attack.
As Israeli officers stand nearby, voices are heard — presumably those of bystanders — shouting at the boy in Hebrew and Arabic. “Just shoot this son of a bitch in the head,” one man says in Hebrew. Some policemen appear to be trying to push away those yelling at the boy.
On Tuesday, the Palestinian Information Ministry posted the video on YouTube, with subtitles in English, under the title, “Ahmed Manasra — Israeli brutality exposed.”
Israel responded by announcing the boy was alive and being treated at Hadassah Hospital.
On Wednesday, Israel released security camera video that appears to show the two Manasra cousins wielding knives and chasing a man through a Jewish area of east Jerusalem.
The video moves to a shot of an Israeli boy standing in a candy store, getting on his bicycle, then collapsing and falling off the bike after the stabbing.
In a final scene, Hassan is seen being confronted by two armed policemen along the light rail track. He lunges at the officers and is shot.
Abbas made the next move in a televised speech Wednesday evening.
“We will not give in to the logic of brute force and policies of occupation and aggression practiced by the Israeli government and its herds of settlers who engage in terrorism against our people and our holy places and our homes and our trees, and the summary execution of our children in cold blood, as they did with the child Ahmed Manasra and other children in Jerusalem and other places,” he said.
The comments, aimed at a domestic audience, appeared to be an attempt to catch up with Palestinian public opinion; Abbas faces mounting criticism at home that he is too conciliatory toward Israel. Behind the scenes, Abbas has been urging his security commanders to clamp down on violence, saying attacks on Israelis counter Palestinian interests.
Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said Abbas’ comments about Ahmed Manasra were a result of inaccurate information.
“We thought in the beginning that he was killed,” Erekat said. “Then the information we had was that he is clinically dead.”
There appeared to be no attempt by Abbas’ office to set the record straight. Instead, it accused Israel of inciting against the Palestinian leader.
Erekat said Abbas was trying to underscore claims that Israel is wrongfully killing Palestinians being accused of carrying out attacks.
“There could have been many ways to arrest those people, but they chose to shoot in order to kill, and this is what happened in many cases,” he said.
Nine human rights groups in Israel expressed concern Wednesday over what they said has been “a worrying trend to use firearms to kill Palestinians who have attacked Israelis or are suspected of such attacks.”
The groups said that “politicians and senior police officers have … openly called for the extrajudicial killing of suspects.”
The U.S. has also expressed concerns that Israel may have used excessive force in subduing some of the attackers — a claim Netanyahu rejected.
He said Israel is using “exactly the kind and amount of legitimate force” that any other government faced with seemingly spontaneous stabbing attacks would use.