Jogger Killed in 'Mistake' Was Cosmopolitan Student Who Straddled Mideast Divide
By GREG MYRE
Published: March 21, 2004
ERUSALEM, March 20 — George Khoury seemed one of the lucky few who could easily transcend the strict set of boundaries imposed by the Middle East conflict.
An Israeli Arab, Mr. Khoury, 20, was a well-liked student of international relations at Hebrew University in East Jerusalem, and had a wide-ranging network of friends that included Jews, Arabs and Americans. The son of a prominent and wealthy lawyer, he was comfortable conversing in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
He was an avid jogger. He was out running Friday night in an East Jerusalem neighborhood frequented by Jews and Arabs when he was fatally shot by Palestinian gunmen, who mistook him for a Jew.
It was not the first time his family had been hit by the violence here. In 1975, Mr. Khoury's grandfather was killed in a Palestinian bombing that was aimed at Israeli Jews in Jerusalem, killing 14 people.
"George loved life, and he made friends with everyone," said his cousin, Michael Zumot, one of the dozens of family members who gathered Saturday for condolences at the Khourys' expansive, three-story home in East Jerusalem. "Only an animal could have done this to George."
Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, the group that carried out the shooting, initially said the attack was in response to the "arrests and murders carried out by the Israeli Army." But after learning who had been killed, it offered an apology.
"It was a mistake, and we extend our apology to his family," a leader of the group, who declined to be identified as is the group's practice in such cases, told Reuters.
Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades is an offshoot of the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat's Fatah movement and has been behind many of the attacks against Israelis. Group members say that they are loyal to Mr. Arafat, but that they act independently. This frequently produces a situation in which the group releases a statement proclaiming responsibility for a bombing or shooting, and shortly afterward Mr. Arafat issues his own statement denouncing the attack.
Israel dismisses Mr. Arafat's statements as insincere and says they demonstrate his unwillingness to crack down on Palestinian violence even when carried out by his own supporters.
Elias Khoury, the father of the latest victim, said he had long opposed the violence that had claimed so many civilians on both sides.
"I am against all violent attacks against innocent civilians whether it be against Israeli civilians or Palestinian civilians," he told the Israel radio.
Elias Khoury is one of the best-known Arab lawyers in Jerusalem and has often argued on behalf of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in cases involving land disputes with Israel. George Khoury intended to follow in his father's footsteps and seemed well on his way.
Two years ago he graduated from the private Anglican International School in Jerusalem, where his class had fewer than 20 students but was remarkably diverse. It included Christians and Jews from the United States and other countries, Palestinian Muslims, and Israeli Arab Christians, like Mr. Khoury.
"That class represented the intercommunal bonds that are often so hard to develop here," said James Snyder, an American who is the director of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and who had a daughter in the same class. "He was a wonderful kid from a very fine Jerusalem family."
Mr. Khoury was in his second year at Hebrew University, a primarily Jewish institution that includes a sizable Arab minority. It is just a couple of miles from his home, and on a chilly Friday night, Mr. Khoury drove to the area for one of his regular runs. He had asked his younger sister to join him, but she declined, saying it was too cold.
He was running alone in the French Hill neighborhood, where most residents are Jewish, though many Palestinian commuters pass through it. The area is relatively quiet, and both Jews and Arabs use it for jogging or walking.
The gunmen shot Mr. Khoury in the head and the stomach, and he died shortly afterward at a Jerusalem hospital. Given the location of the attack, and with Palestinian gunmen claiming responsibility, the police initially declared that the victim was Jewish.
Mr. Khoury had no identification with him when he was shot. The police identified him only hours later after locating his car and tracing the license plates to the Khoury family, the family said.
Fady Awwad, one of Mr. Khoury's cousins, said the two used to hang out in the center of Jerusalem. But the frequent suicide bomb attacks had made it too risky.
"The last couple years, he didn't go out a lot, and he stayed away from the center of the city," said Mr. Awwad, 22.
George Khoury and his father defended their people. But they could not defend against their people's own sin. Racism is a fact among Hamas and Al Aqsa followers. Shortly after George's assasination, the brigade apologised and said they had thought he was a Jew. This type of thinking was propogated by Sheik Yassin. As the spiritual leader of Hamas, he claimed only his race had a right to the holy land. He often was heard speaking racist jargon against Jews.
Meanwhile, George and his father fought for their people's rights. And because of the blind racism that Yassin instilled, they have one, maybe two less defenders.
In Muslim law there is a saying, an eye for an eye. The Israelis, for whatever it's worth, have taken Mr. Yassin's eye for the blood of their son, an Israeli Arab, a Muslim, and a patriot to the law. Perhaps George could have been the great Israeli Arab politician who helped the peace process, no one knows. One thing is for sure, Yassin's racism never helped. This is perhaps one of the first times you might see Israelis, instead of Palestinians, celebrating for once, and mourning a true Martyr, George Khoury.