A lawyer representing Tariq Abu Khdeir said Friday that “there is a lot of support” from officials in Washington for the 15-year-old and his family.
“Clearly, there is not as much support as there would be had Tariq been an Israeli-American child who was attacked by Hamas,” Hassan Shibly, an attorney and executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, told me. “Nonetheless, we’re beginning to see change.”
Members of the Abu Khdeir family and Shibly traveled to the nation’s capital to appeal to American officials to seek justice for Tariq, a U.S. citizen, and their Palestinian relatives in the West Bank.
The Palestinian-American teenager was arrested without charge and beaten by Israeli policemen after being detained in occupied East Jerusalem on July 3. Two weeks later, about fifty members of the Abu Khdeir family were arrested without charge just after midnight on July 17, less than 24 hours after Tariq returned to the United States.
Shibly said that the family has met with Congressional staffers, the State Department and members of the White House National Security Council. Some staffers, he said, were moved to tears by Tariq’s story.
He said the family has four requests for the American government: to ensure that the officers involved in Tariq’s beating are “brought to justice so as to ensure that this never happens again”; to secure the release of his relatives “wrongfully arrested in retaliation” for what Shibly described as the family’s decision to publicize Israeli cops’ vicious assault on Tariq; to condition US aid to Israel on equal treatment of “all people in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank”; and to “ensure all people have basic due process rights and protections.”
He pointed out that these four points are a priority for the family over financial compensation.
“Nonetheless, as his legal team, we are exploring all legal options to fully hold those officers accountable and to compensate Tariq’s family for the emotional and physical suffering that they’ve been through,” he added. “Both to assist them and to ensure that Israel recognizes the gravity of the crime, because often without financial penalties people do not take things as seriously.”
Only one police officer has been reprimanded for beating Tariq, despite the fact that multiple people took part in the attack. His punishment was a 15 day suspension.
Shibly said that Israel’s refusal to hold security forces accountable for abuses against Palestinians and Israeli Arabs is prolonging the conflict.
Tariq, a resident of Tampa, Fla. who will start tenth grade this fall, told Mondoweiss that he is still in physical pain.
“My ribs still hurt and I still have a lot of headaches,” he said on Friday, at the end of a day in which he told his story dozens of times.
As part of the outreach, Tariq, his mother Suha Abu Khedir, and Shibly participated in a panel for Congressional staffers held Friday at 2 p.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building. The panel, which took place in a small conference room, was so well-attended that organizers decided to repeat the hearing at 3:30. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) attended the entire panel, and was sitting on the floor.
At the hearing, Tariq recalled how he was in an alley among a crowd watching a demonstration when Israeli police set upon the group. He said after the police fired rubber bullets, he jumped a fence and ran to escape danger. Officers eventually caught up with him, bound his hands with a ziptie, and beat him unconscious.
“Three of my cousins were arrested with me – Kareem, Mahmoud and Mohammed,” Tariq said. “They’re still in jail because they are not American.”
“What happened to me is a small taste of what Palestinians go through every day,” he said.
Suha, who was once nearly overcome with emotion talking about her son’s beating, said Israeli police restricted her access to Tariq while he was in the hospital. She also said they taunted her and her relatives, boasting that Mohamed Abu Khdeir, Tariq’s 16 year old cousin kidnapped and fatally immolated by Israeli Jewish civilian extremists on July 2, “was just the first” and that 300 Palestinians would be killed in revenge for the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered in June near Hebron – a crime widely believed to have been committed by two rogue Hamas members.
Shibly pointed out that the whole ordeal has deprived the family of the opportunity to mourn the loss of Mohamed. Tariq, who talked about the last time he saw Mohammed, before embarking on a trip to a bakery to break Ramadan fasting, described his murdered cousin as “the first friend I made in Palestine.”
Talking more about “what Palestinians go through every day” at the panel were author and freelance journalist Laila El-Haddad; Sunjeev Bery, the Middle East and North Africa advocacy director for Amnesty International USA; and Brad Parker, staff attorney and international advocacy officer at Defence for Children International – Palestine.
El-Haddad, a resident of Columbia, Md. who is originally from Gaza, took part in the briefing despite having that morning “learned my tax dollars killed eight members of my family in southern Gaza.” She mostly described Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza, and dispelled the myth that its latest offensive is directly related to Hamas. Israel first blockaded the coastal enclave for three months between the “so-called Israeli withdrawal” in 2005 and the election of the Islamist party, she pointed out.
“The status quo is designed to crush the will of the Palestinian people to live,” she said.
Parker detailed how three-quarters of the roughly 700 Palestinian children arrested annually by Israeli security forces are subject to physical abuse.
“Tariq’s case is horrific, but it’s not exceptional,” he said. He described how the Israeli government gives legal cover to its abuses by subjecting Palestinians in the occupied territories to military law.
“There’s even a charge for dishonoring an Israeli soldier,” he said. “It’s a legal system designed for control under occupation” Israeli settlers, meanwhile, are under Israel’s civil law.
Bery highlighted, among other issues, the fact that non-violent protest in Palestine is, in fact, illegal under military law 101. The law, in effect since 1967, states that gatherings of 10 or more people are forbidden unless expressly permitted by the IDF. He highlighted the case of Murad Shtewi, a community organizer from Kufr Qadum, who, Amnesty concluded, was arrested for organizing demonstrations against Israel’s apartheid regime.
Rep. Ellison, who also attended an event that evening featuring Tariq, Shibly, Phyllis Bennis, Noura Erakat, and Lt. Col. Ann Wright (Ret.), told me that “briefings like this are critically important.” The Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair, who recently wrote an op-ed calling on Israel to lift the siege of Gaza, said he believes more people on Capitol Hill would sympathize with Palestinians if they were aware of their treatment at the hands of the Israeli government.
Josh Ruebner, the national advocacy director for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, intoned that, increasingly, officialdom in Washington cannot claim ignorance. At the evening event on Friday – at Busboys and Poets, a restaurant chain owned by Iraqi-American artist and activist Andy Shallal – Ruebner marveled at the fact that organizers of the briefing, which he moderated, “had to turn away congressional staffers.”
“It gives me a little silver lining of hope,” he said.