Wednesday, September 30, 2020

If Tariq Khdeir were not American, "he would have been left to rot in jail

By Charlotte Drax - July 09, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Jerusalem] [US foreign policy]

"And they hit me, and they kept hitting me, and then I fell asleep, and then I woke up in the hospital."

This is how 15-year-old Tariq Abu Khdeir described his ordeal to a crowd of cameras stationed outside a Jerusalem court Sunday afternoon. The savagely-beaten teenager had just been released without charge and news crews from around the world had been waiting for this moment to speak him.

“Have you been treated well whilst you’ve been in prison?” one English correspondent eagerly asked. Tariq nodded affirmatively and replied, in his distinctly American accent, “Yes.” His mother and Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli party, then protectively led him away from the media swarm that had engulfed him. 

Mass Media Coverage

American-born Tariq was arrested on Thursday after he was severely beaten by Israeli police officers during clashes in the Shufat neighbourhood of Jerusalem. The clashes began in the neighbourhood following news of the abduction and brutal killing of Tariq’s cousin, 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and burned alive, in what we now know was a nationalistically-motivated revenge attack.  

Although Israeli police alleged that the teenager was involved in violence before the brutal beating, Tariq told the awaiting media that he was simply “standing and watching a group of people,” when “they came from the side of me, and they grabbed me.” 

By “they” he means the two members of the Israeli Border Police that were captured on video repeatedly punching and kicking the blindfolded 15-year-old in the head before dragging his limp body away. 

This video, in addition to pictures of Tariq’s face before and after the beating, went viral as word spread that the arrested teenager was an American citizen.      

“Tariq’s case garnered massive international media attention both because the brutal beating was caught on video and because he is a US citizen,” Gavan Kelly, an advocacy coordinator at the prisoners' rights group Addameer, told Palestine Monitor.

Gavan, who attended the hearing in Jerusalem, went on to add that "this happens all the time. It's just not always caught on camera. One of the most powerful weapons people have here are smart phones, which can photograph and record violations. Through social media the rest of the world are becoming more aware of the everyday brutalities of the Israeli occupation.” 

Mariam Barghouti 

Although at points difficult to watch, the popularity of the video prompted US Department of State to release an official statement confirming, “American citizen, Tariq Khdeir, is being held by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem.” The statement goes on to “strongly condemn” the attack and calls for a “speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force.”

This is not the first time this year that an American citizen has been arrested and detained by Israeli forces. On 11 April, 20-year-old university student Mariam Barghouti was arrested whilst leaving the village of Nabi Saleh, an area known for holding protests against Israel’s occupation. 

At her court hearing Mariam was charged with stone-throwing and entering a closed-military area, a charge she vehemently denied. Although this may seem like a minor charge, stone-throwing carries a minimum sentence of three months in prison.  

Mariam’s case was complicated further by the fact that she was tried as a Palestinian under Israeli military code. Unlike Tariq who was just visiting family in East Jerusalem, Mariam is an American citizen but also a West Bank resident. With the conviction rate for Palestinians tried in Israeli military courts standing at 99.7%, Mariam’s chances were slim.   

She was, however, released on 18 April after an Israeli military judge stated that he “had doubts if the evidence supports the prosecution charges.”

At the time, Abir Kopty expressed her “disappointment” in the American media for its lack of interest in Mariam’s case. A Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, Abir Kopty was arrested alongside Mariam but released ahead of her friend. “American media were never interested even though she is an American citizen,” she stated in an interview.  

 “This happens to Palestinians every single day”

In 2014, 190 Palestinian children on average have been held in Israeli detention, according to documentation by Defence for Children International Palestine. The majority of these children will carry out their sentences without mention in international media. 

According to reports, Tariq was one of 21 Palestinians who had a hearing at Jerusalem District court on Sunday. Gavan Kelly, who attended trials before and after the American teenager’s, described the other courtrooms as “empty.”  

When asked if there had been any mention in court of an investigation into the police officers involved in the attack, Gavan stated that the judge had “recommended” an internal investigation. “We are unsure whether that has taken place, but we have no faith. From past experiences internal investigations produce very little results,” he added.  

Although the Khdeir family are soon flying back to America, Tariq’s mother is determined to press charges and push for a proper investigation. 

 “I’m angry. I’m disturbed. I’m ready to take legal action because this happens to the Palestinians every single day,” Suha Abu Khdeir, stated in a televised interview after the release of her son.

“He is just one of the Americans that happened to be here. That’s why he had the opportunity for all the media and for the whole world to hear him, for once. But for other Palestinians that live here, this happens to them all the time. They never have the opportunity to voice, to talk about it, to show.”  

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