Update: The State Department has sharply criticized the Israeli handling of the Tariq Abu Khdeir case. Spokesperson John Kirby:
We were disappointed to learn that the Israeli police officer who severely beat American teenager Tariq Abu Khdeir in July of 2014 was spared prison time by an Israeli court yesterday. Given the clear evidence captured on videotape of the excessive use of force, it is difficult to see how this sentence would promote full accountability for the actions of the police officer in this case. We understand there is a possibility for the Israeli state prosecutor to appeal the decision, and we’re going to continue to follow that closely, as you might expect.
I’ll just state again, the safety, security, and protection of American citizens overseas is of paramount importance for this Administration, and we have demonstrated repeatedly – we’ve demonstrated that repeatedly in cases all over the globe.
In a mockery of justice, an Israeli border police officer who assaulted 15-year-old Palestinian-American Tariq Abu Khdeir following the kidnapping and torching-murder of his cousin, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, in Occupied East Jerusalem in July 2014, has been sentenced to a mere 45 days of community service. Zip, that’s it.
The anonymous officer, whose identity has been protected by the state, stomped on Abu Khdeir’s back and beat him so relentlessly he lost consciousness. The officer was convicted of assault and battery in Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court and granted a “suspended term of four months in prison“. The judge wrote in the verdict that the state prosecution has not presented a case with similar circumstances that resulted in the defendant “behind bars“.
Here is a statement from the family of Tariq Abu Khdeir:
“To hear that the officer responsible for the inhumane beating of our young son, Tariq, was only sentenced to one-and-a-half months of community service is a shameful slap on the wrist and sends the wrong message that Israel tolerates the violent, extrajudicial beating of children. We continue to demand that justice be served, for the officers that participated in his cruel beating to be held accountable in a transparent manner, and for assurances that such treatment of Palestinian minors by Israeli forces will end.”
Statement from Ahmad Tibi, a member of the Israeli Knesset:
There can be no doubt that if PA police had beaten bloody a Jewish child that Israel would have prosecuted them to the full extent of the law — if they weren’t killed on the spot. The fact that the officers who beat Tariq Abu Khdeir so brutally aren’t serving serious prison time highlights the two-tier nature of Israel’s justice system. This miscarriage of justice is precisely why Palestinians are taking to the streets in yet another wave of anger for freedom and equal human rights. We are fed up with what was recognized as apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow in the American South but is business as usual for Israel’s many trade partners. We have had enough deaths and injuries in the Abu Khdeir family, the Nawara family, and the Dawabsheh family. We insist on immediate change to protect the lives of Palestinian children. This flagrant racism must end.
Naturally, after Abu Khdeir’s assault the U.S. State Department expressed “deep concern” on behalf of an American citizen. It strongly condemned the use of excessive force and said it was “profoundly troubled” by the case. And that the U.S. government was “shocked” to learn that 15 year old Abu Khdeir was severely beaten while in police custody. The State Department called for an investigation. At that time, Abu Khdeir’s mother, Suha Abu Khdeir, said if her son wasn’t a US citizen he’d be “just pushed to the side like a dog. .. left to rot in jail.”
It is startling to think that the U.S. government was shocked by the treatment. According to the human rights group Yesh Din in a report, “Criminal Accountability of Israeli Security forces”:
Most cases of violent crimes against Palestinians not only go unpunished – but often are completely ignored by the authorities. This is a blatant violation of the human rights of Palestinian civilians living in the West Bank and of Israel’s duties under International Humanitarian Law.
Even when criminal investigations against soldiers accused of such offences are opened, they almost always fail…..approximately 94 percent of criminal investigations launched by the IDF against soldiers suspected of criminal violent activity against Palestinians and their property are closed without any indictments. In the rare cases that indictments are served, conviction leads to very light sentencing.
Tariq Abu Khdeir’s beating took place at a time when anger spilled out into streets all over Palestine following his cousin Mohammed’s lynching. Israeli forces responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, and some live ammunition. Israeli forces surrounded the neighborhood of Shufat in occupied East Jerusalem from which Mohammed had been abducted. And just hours before the earliest tweets of Tariq Abu Khdeir abduction surfaced, our Ramallah correspondent Allison Deger quoted Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s uncle, Walid Abu Khdeir, as saying the Israel police had virtually accused family members of the killing, when police asked the family to “get the boys for questioning.” The uncle responded: “We refused this. If you want them come and capture them.”
Tariq, one of the last people to see his cousin alive, was abducted shortly thereafter.
Tariq Abu Khdeir said he was just standing there watching the protests of his cousin’s murder when police ambushed and attacked him, beating him unconscious. He was then held in custody for three days, part of that time chained to a hospital bed, part at the Russian Compound being interrogated. And finally after a hearing, at which he was barred from returning to his home in the U.S., his family had to pay an 800 dollar fine for his release. Tariq remained in occupied East Jerusalem sentenced to 9 days of house arrest.
When Tariq was finally able to return to his home in Florida, the Israeli police exacted a price from his relatives by raiding the family home in Occupied East Jerusalem, arresting Abu Khdeir’s uncle and cousins without charges, and ransacking their property.
Had a video of the assault not emerged and gone viral on social media, his trauma, no different from countless other assaults/tortures/crimes carried out routinely by Israeli forces against Palestinian children, would have gone unnoticed.
Nine months later, all charges against Tariq were dropped; as he said, it was a “make-believe case.” And here we are 16 months later and the assaulting officer can just walk away from this. Brad Parker, Attorney and International Advocacy officer for Defense for Children International – Palestine, said the conviction “must be understood within the context of an Israeli judicial system where impunity reigns … impunity is the norm for Israeli forces.” Parker said, via Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU):
Israel claims to open investigations into incidents involving injury and violence against Palestinian children, but indictments are incredibly rare and impunity is the norm for Israeli forces. When compared to the brutal use of excessive force employed against an incapacitated fifteen-year-old boy, most should agree that this is an incredibly light sentence. It is troubling that Tariq Abu Khdeir, who was cleared of any wrongdoing, possibly spent more time in detention than the unnamed officer convicted of brutally assaulting him.”
To add insult to the injury and injustice, the New York Times today concluded its account of the case, saying, “The Israeli authorities said that Tariq was masked and holding a wooden slingshot when the officer chased him.” Really? But all charges against him were dropped. There was no case.