WASHINGTON — The aunt of Tariq Abu Khdeir, the 15-year-old Palestinian-American boy whose beating by Israeli police officers was caught on video, spoke to her nephew by phone just after he was released from a Jerusalem jail, and what he told her left her almost unable to respond.
“He said, ‘I still hear my cousin’s voice in my ear, the last words he said to me: Wait for me, I’m gonna follow you,’” Fatima Abu Khdeir remembered. “I didn’t know what to say. I told him, Tariq, that’s God’s will. As long as you are alive, Mohammed will be alive in your heart.”
Mohammed Abu Kdheir is the 16-year-old Palestinian boy who was kidnapped and apparently burned alive last week by Israeli settlers in a suspected revenge attack for the deaths of three Israeli teenagers whose bodies were found June 30, weeks after they disappeared while hiking near the occupied West Bank.
Tariq, a high school sophomore from Tampa, Florida, and his parents were on a family trip to visit Mohammed and other relatives when his cousin was abducted and killed. In the violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces that followed, Tariq was arrested. While he was being detained, he was beaten unconscious by three police officers. The assault was captured on video and circulated by human rights groups.
Three days later, he was released from a Jerusalem jail on $850 bail, his swollen, bloodied face a testament to the severity of the beating. Tariq was then sentenced to 10 days house arrest at a family member's home pending the outcome of an investigation.
Meanwhile at a press conference at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Fatima Abu Khdeir and three other members of Tariq’s U.S.-based family called on the U.S. State Department to intervene and help bring the boy home immediately.
“We want to bring Tariq home so he can get medical attention, we want justice, we want those who beat a minor to face time for that,” Tariq’s cousin, Hakim Abu Kdheir, said.
In a statement, the State Department said it was “profoundly troubled” by the video of the beating. On July 7, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki called for a “speedy and transparent and credible investigation.”
Hakim Abu Khdeir told Al Jazeera America that family members in Florida and Tariq’s parents, who are still in East Jerusalem, have both met with State Department officials. He had no further details on any possible action the U.S. could take.
Zainab Chaudry, CAIR’s Maryland outreach manager, said the group’s legal team is working with State Department officials to “ensure justice is carried out” and to “make sure that the individuals responsible for this horrific attack on Tariq are held accountable for their actions.”
Chaudry said she and Tariq's relatives are scheduled to meet Wednesday with Congressman Elijah Cummings, who represents the Maryland district where Tariq was born and raised, and where his relatives in Baltimore currently reside. They plan to ask Cummings to urge the State Department to intervene in the case.
She confirmed that Tariq’s father, Saleh Abu Kdheir, filed a formal complaint with the help of a U.S. consulate official against the Israeli police officers who carried out the beating.
Fatima Abu Khdeir said when she spoke to Tariq before he left for Shuafat last month, “He was so excited to meet his cousin he’d never met — that was his first trip — he was so excited, he wanted to meet his cousin, his family, his uncle.”
She reached her brother by phone after seeing video of the assault on TV but before she knew the limp figure being kicked and dragged was her nephew. He was crying so hard, she said, that she had to “take the words out of his mouth.”
“I asked, is he alive? And he said, ‘Yes, but they beat him up badly.’”
The family is planning to take legal action once they return to Florida, Fatima Abu Kdheir said. “[Saleh Abu Kdheir] didn’t want to speak on the phone, but he told me, ‘We are planning something, and when we come home, we’re going to see what will happen, because he was a victim, he was treated like a criminal and that is not acceptable.”
A spokesman for the Israeli police, Micky Rosenfeld, has said Tariq was “attacking security officers and rioting,” but the teenager has denied that he was taking part in the violence. Israeli police have also said the video of the beating was “edited” and is “biased.”
Saleh Abu Kdheir told Al Jazeera that there was no evidence to support prosecution. “If my son was involved in throwing rocks, the Israelis would have kept him. If he was involved in the situation in Shuafat, they would have kept him.”
Maria Baroody, an aunt of Tariq’s who also spoke at the Washington CAIR press conference, said, “Tariq himself has been interviewed, I’ve seen the interviews, he’s said he was not throwing stones. He was in the yard. I’ve seen the video myself. He was beaten on Abu Khdeir property in a yard next to his uncle’s house.” She said clouds of tear gas had forced Tariq to wrap a keffiyeh around his face, which some have pointed to as evidence of his involvement.
CAIR's Chaudry said the group believes Tariq was an innocent bystander. But she added, “Even if he did have a slingshot, does it really warrant the kind of response that he received from the Israeli soldiers who brutally beat him? The fact that he was subjected to over 20 lashes, kicks and punches to the face — he’s a 15-year-old teenager who’s never even been in a war zone, and for him to be subjected to that kind of treatment, it’s not justifiable.”
The family isn't optimistic that the Israeli investigation will be carried out fairly, Hakim Abu Kdheir said. “I don’t know if we have faith in the Israeli government at the moment. We do have faith in the United States government to see that we receive justice for Tariq.”