Tarek Abu Khdeir, the 15-year-old Palestinian-American beat up by Israeli forces last week, was pummeled in an “ambush” away from the clashes taking place in Shuafat, according to an eyewitness speaking out to the media for the first time.
“They just kept beating him,” Leen Barghouti, a Palestinian who was born and raised in Shuafat and who witnessed the beating of Abu Khdeir, told me in an interview. “It was pretty much an ambush.”
Barghouti’s eyewitness account bolsters what Tarek and his family have said from day one: that the 15-year-old was not throwing stones or taking part in clashes that were sparked by the brutal murder of his cousin, Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The family has said that Tarek was in his uncle’s backyard when he was attacked.
In the aftermath of the publication of a video showing security forces beating Tarek up after he was subdued, Israeli officials have claimed that Tarek and other Palestinians attacked Israeli forces and the video of the beating was “edited and biased.” No evidence has been presented that Tarek took part in the clashes or attacked Israeli forces.
Barghouti is staying in Shuafat, Jerusalem at her grandmother’s house over the summer while interning for an organization in Beit Jala, a Palestinian town near Bethlehem. On Thursday, the day after Mohammed Abu Khdeir was found dead after being burned alive by Israeli Jewish terrorists, Barghouti, a graduate student at Georgetown, was at her family’s Shuafat home watching the clashes from a window. She says her home overlooks the Abu Khdeir residence in the middle-class neighborhood of Shuafat in occupied East Jerusalem.
Barghouti told me that the clashes–with Israeli forces shooting tear gas and stun grenades and Palestinians throwing rocks–took place on the main street of Shuafat. At one point, Palestinian youths constructed a makeshift barrier and moved closer to Israeli forces stationed in the area. “Then suddenly they started shouting…and they just spread out all over the neighborhood. And that’s when we actually ended up seeing Tarek getting beaten up,” she said. “It was really crazy. He wasn’t anywhere near the main street, that’s the weird part. I know they keep saying he was taking part in the demonstration or clashes, but he wasn’t anywhere near the street.”
Barghouti says that the people who beat up Tarek Abu Khdeir were musta’arabin, or undercover officers who try to look like Palestinians. The musta’arabin were wearing masks and were stationed “everywhere in the alleyways.” The pummeling of Tarek lasted between three and five minutes, Barghouti said. The video of the beating shows that he was pummeled even after being arrested.
Photos of Tarek’s bruised, misshapen face emerged soon after. “I was shocked when I saw the aftermath. It did look brutal, but I did not expect the aftermath to be that bad,” said Barghouti. On Sunday, as Allison Deger reported, Tarek was released from Israeli prison but placed under house arrest after his family paid a fine. He has not been charged with anything. His family wants him to be flown back to the U.S. as fast as possible for medical treatment they estimate could cost $200,000–which they want Israel to pay for.
Barghouti’s Shuafat neighborhood, usually a quiet area of East Jerusalem, has found itself thrust into the center of Israeli-Palestinian tensions over the past week. Last Tuesday, Shuafat resident Dina Zalloum told the Israeli police that Israeli Jews had tried to kidnap her nine-year-old son, Musa. She successfully intervened, saving Musa.
The police now suspect that those who killed Mohammed Abu Khdeir, another Shuafat resident, tried to kidnap Musa first. The kidnapping and murder of Mohammed followed a wave of incitement by Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and hundreds of right-wing youth marauding through Jerusalem chanting “death to Arabs.”
On the day after Mohammed was killed, “I woke up to the sounds of helicopters and there were soldiers everywhere,” said Barghouti. That was the day when fierce clashes broke out, and when Tarek was kicked in the head repeatedly.
Barghouti said that dozens of Israeli Border Police and special forces were in Shuafat that day. She said that the Israeli forces harassed many Shuafat residents, with some calling women in the neighborhood whores.
“They’ve just been terrorizing the entire neighborhood,” she said.