A Tampa teenager became the center of the firestorm between Israel and Palestine when he was beaten by Israeli police shortly after his cousin was killed by Israeli extremists; Tariq Abukhdeir is back home now and he’s healing from his wounds.
Wednesday night I sat down with Tariq and his mother at their East Tampa townhouse. It’s on a quiet, suburban street not far from the Florida Fairgrounds. On his living room sofa, Tariq Abukhdeir told me about his first encounter with military police – when they were shooting rubber bullets and tear gas bombs at a protest after the death of his cousin, Mohammed Abu Khdeir.
“They were actually shooting the bullets at everyone. They were at the end of the village and they were shooting at whoever they saw in front of them. There would be a huge street in front of them and everybody was outside, they would be shooting at everybody [with] the rubber bullets.”
How many people were there and what neighborhood is this called? What’s the name of it?
“Yes and there were a lot of people outside.”
And the Israeli police say that you were throwing rocks or you were throwing — someone said you had a slingshot. What were you doing?
“Me? I was there watching. I did not throw a single rock. I did not take any part in the protest. I had nothing to do with the protest. When I saw some people coming from my left side, they were screaming. Behind them I saw soldiers. And everybody scattered and ran and everybody was confused. So I ran and I jumped the fence and I ran a little farther than the fence. And there they tackled me and grabbed me onto the floor and zip tied my arms together behind my back and then they started beating me.”
What were you thinking when they started beating you and when they were chasing after you?
“I was screaming: ‘stop.’ I was screaming, like I was screaming. I was so devastated about everything, about my cousin, what’s going on, what’s happening.”
In have read where you said that you later saw the video and that the video only showed a couple minutes of this. What was the beating like? How long did it go on? What do you remember about that?
“Well, when I saw the video of the beating, I didn’t know it was me. I was like, ‘Oh my God. How could that happen to me? I don’t even know, like, exactly what’s happening.’ And I didn’t understand, like is that really me or did I go unconscious in the middle? And I didn’t see what happened. Because half the time I was awake and then they kept punching me in my face and I slowly was starting to get unconscious. And then I went unconscious.”
Afterwards, when I guess you were unconscious and then you woke up — what were you first thinking when you woke up?
“I woke up blindfolded in the jail, handcuffed and leg-cuffed. And I was so — I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, what was going on, where I was. And then I left to the hospital. Six hours later after they caught me. Stayed in the hospital for a couple of hours, got some treatment, got some stitches. And from the hospital I went back to the jail and stayed for four days.”
How were you feeling when you were waiting to get seen at the hospital and afterwards when you were waiting around in the jail? What did you think about as far as whether your family knew you were safe or whether you were going to be physically OK?
“In the jail, while I was waiting, they put me in this room; it’s like a cell. They put me with other people. They say I’m in this room. I sat there for a couple hours. Yeah, and then they got me out and then put me in the cell – the other cell the one I slept in.”
What was it like in the jail? What kind of things did you do? How did you interact with the prison guards there?
“When I got to my cell there were maybe four other people in my cell; I sat and I talked with them. Then, I went to sleep and when I woke up, I talked to the guards. They were very mean. They would tell me to leave the room. Like if I needed to go to see the doctor again or take my medicine, they’d handcuffed me and leg-cuff me to take me there.”
Were you able to talk with your family while you were in prison?
When I was at the airport the other night, before you got there, I was talking to one of your uncles and he said, ‘You know, we just know about you because you are an American citizen but there’s lots of Palestinian kids that are in prison.’ What do you know about that? The people you met in Palestine – and whether there’s lots of kids in prison?
“Well, when I was getting beaten some of my other relatives were getting beaten too and they were taken to jail at the same time. And they were actually in jail with me. So, yeah, so I had some relatives in jail with me.”
And they were kids?
What would you say to American kids? Like, let’s say when you go back to school, you know, people haven’t been to Israel, haven’t been to Palestine — what would you say to them to help them to understand what it’s like over there for kids?
“Well over there kids, they can’t survive over there. Kids, they go through a tough time to survive.”
In what way?
“They are slowly loosing food, slowly. They need water, they don’t have water. They need help over there, like major help.”
We’ll bring you more from this interview in the days to come, where you’ll hear more about how Tariq is recovering from his injuries.