“I was zip-tied and leg-cuffed and beaten, punched and kicked in the face until I was unconscious. And even when I went unconscious they kept punching and kicking me like I was a punching bag. And I woke up blindfolded in jail … I felt like I was in my cousin’s place, God rest his soul.” – Tariq Abukhdeir
In the early hours of 2 July, Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudair was kidnapped from the eastern occupied Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat allegedly by three Israelis seeking vengeance for the killings of three Israeli youths kidnapped several weeks earlier in the occupied West Bank.
Muhammad’s body was found later that morning. He had been burned to death.
Hours later, Muhammad’s 15-year-old cousin and friend Tariq Abukhdeir, who was visiting for the summer from Tampa, Florida, was savagely beaten by Israeli police amid a wild crackdown in Shuafat against a population angered and traumatized by the earlier killing.
Because the attack on Tariq was caught on video, it quickly gained intense media attention, and rare condemnation from the US government.
The video of their testimony is above.
With thanks to Mansoor Sabbagh of Global Voices for Justice for videography and production.
Tariq Abukhdeir: Thank you for having me tonight. Good evening. I’m happy to be back in the US – safe – and when I went overseas I had a tough time.
And actually when I arrived in Palestine the Israelis kept me in the airport for ten hours. At that time I was confused so I thought about it a little bit. I thought about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. As we speak right now, the Palestinian people are suffering.
I visited Palestine for six weeks and what happened to me was just a small taste of what they go through every single day. And the Palestinians do not have rights and when I went over there I forgot that I had freedom. I wish, now that I’m back, that they have the same freedom I have. I appreciate freedom more now that I’m back in the US.
I’m just an average kid. I was born in Baltimore and I moved to Tampa when I was eleven. I’m fifteen and I’m in tenth grade right now – I started school already.
Now, about my cousin Muhammad Abu Khudair. He was my first friend that I made when I went to Palestine this year – because I hadn’t been to Palestine for eleven years. So right when I went there I saw him with all my cousins. We became friends on the spot. We went out every day – we had so much fun. We stayed up all night.
So one night during the month of Ramadan, I passed by him and I said “Hi” to him. I was on the way to the bakery to buy some food. I came by and I drove off and I came back and I saw the cops were exactly where he was sitting. And I asked – there was only one of my cousins that was there – and I asked him “What happened?”
He told me that they kidnapped Muhammad and that, right when he told me that, so many things went through my mind. I was thinking, is he going to come back alive, what are they going to do to him, is he saying anything, can anybody hear him?
So at that point I got a call, the same second that I was told that he was kidnapped – and it was my cousin and he said “What are you doing at 4:30am outside?”
And I’m like “Bro, Muhammad just got kidnapped.” So then all my cousins, all of Shuafat came down, and they were like, “Where is he? We need to know where he is right now.” And we were talking to the cops. And the cops asked me, “Were you the last person to see him?” And I said “Yes. All I saw – and he was just sitting there in front of his house and I drove off and I came back and I saw you guys.”
So later on, a couple of hours later, we found out that he was killed. I found out first and I didn’t want to tell anyone. I just sat by myself and my cousins were like, “Why are you sad? He’s going to be back. He’s going to come back. We have to be positive.”
And I’m telling them “I hope so. God’s will.” And I’m sitting there thinking to myself, “Is this true?” I don’t want to think about it in a bad way but did he really get stabbed and burned alive? Could that really happen? Could someone actually do that to another person? And I was scared for his life.
And then, he was stabbed and burned alive and finally everyone knew when they announced it in the mosque. And when they announced it in the mosque everyone just dropped. They were like, “Is it true? We don’t even know how someone could to that to someone else.”
And to even make it worse, they began to fire rubber-coated metal bullets at us, at everyone. They even were firing at my mother, at my aunts and uncles that were inside their houses. They were shooting at every house. And it was so sad and inhumane that they could do that when we lost someone in our family. We’re the ones – my mom is still grieving and my cousin’s mom, my aunt, is still grieving over her son’s death. When he was murdered we thought to ourselves that we tried our best to think he was going to come back, until we found out everything.
To make it worse, later that day, I was on the side of the street when there were some protestors in front of me and there were the IDF [Israeli army] firing rubber bullets at them. And that’s when I was on the side and I’m thinking to myself, “Is this really happening in front of me? Are they really firing rubber bullets to the whole city, to my family?
It made me think how could this happen right in front of me? And then I heard Israeli soldiers behind me, and then I’m thinking they’re going to run by me. They’re just going to shoot like the rest of the soldiers did. They began to run after me. That’s when I panicked. And everyone began to scream and panic too and then they ran. And I began to run too and I panicked because I didn’t know what to do. And that’s when they stuck to me. Three of them were running after me, one person.
And that’s when I jumped the fence on my left and I was at a dead end. It was not actually a dead end but there was like a little ten-foot drop in front of me which everyone jumped. I was going to jump it because I was scared and so many things were running through my mind. So when I was about to jump it, they tackled me and punched me and zip tied me. So I couldn’t make any movements.
I was zip-tied and leg-cuffed and beaten, punched and kicked in the face until I was unconscious. And even when I went unconscious they kept punching and kicking me like I was a punching bag. And I woke up blindfolded in jail. I woke up like I thought I was in the same place, I felt like I was in my cousin’s place, God rest his soul. I’m like, “Where am I? Are they going to kill me? Am I going to live through this?” And I’m bleeding down my neck, and I’m bleeding down every part of my body and I feel like my face is a bubble because of how much it hurt.
After being six hours in jail – they took me to jail – they finally took me to a doctor. And when I went to that doctor I went unconscious again and when I woke up I saw my dad and my uncle in front of me. They said “you might come back home with us tonight, or you might go to jail.”
I thought to myself “why would I go to jail? They beat me up!”
And later on I began to drink and eat and while I was drinking and eating the soldier came up to me to go get dressed. I’m going back to jail. And I’m like – I couldn’t say anything.
So I went to the bathroom and I changed back into my clothes, the same clothes – I was in a gown in the hospital. I had to change back into the same clothes that had all my blood on it, and my ripped shirt.
I went back to the jail and I saw all my cousins in jail and it was so sad. It’s inhumane like how you can just take a bunch of kids for no reason and beat them. I saw my one cousin sitting next to me and his whole shoulder is dislocated and his whole shoulder is bleeding. And I’m looking at myself like how, how is this happening to me? How’s it happening to all the Palestinians? How do they live through this?
I stayed in jail for four days. Actually on the second day I was in jail they said I went to a court date. I went to the court, sat in a jail cell inside the court. I didn’t even get to go to my court date. They just tortured us. They put us in a cell inside the court. Nine people in a closed cell and it was so small. We had to stand, we couldn’t sit down. For six hours we kept standing in that cell. We couldn’t do anything until one by one, [I] was called.
So that’s when I returned to jail. Two days later I had another court date. The same thing happened. I went to the jail cell, stayed there for a couple of hours and finally I got out and there was a bunch of media in front of me. I was getting a bunch of questions. Right when I walked into the courtroom I saw my parents. My face lit up. I was so happy. So many things running through my mind. I’m finally going home. I’m finally going home. I’ll think about everything when I’m going home.
Then the judge told me I’m going to be on house arrest. Usually when I think about house arrest I’m like, “house arrest, I don’t know what that is.” Until she told me that I’m not allowed to go back to my city where my parents are staying – you’re supposed to stay away from your family. Why should I stay away from my family? They’re like trying to torture me.
So they did all this with no charges. That’s what they do to all the Palestinian people – with no charges filed. So on the day I left Palestine they attacked all my cousins, the rest of them. They took half my cousins when I was there and then they took the rest when I left – the night I left.
They waited for me to leave and then they took my cousins, ransacked my house that I was staying in. They took my fifty-year-old uncle. He got back from work and they took him. He works every day from eleven in the morning to six in the morning the next day and they took him. He was so tired.
And I really want to thank everyone that supported me and it’s sad that my cousins are still being persecuted. And the three cousins that were arrested with me – their names are Karim, Muhammad and Mahmoud – they’re still in jail because they’re not American and they didn’t have a video that showed the brutality of the Israelis.
Now, I think all people should be treated equal, no matter who they are or where they come from. We were all created equal and we all deserve to have our rights and I feel my cousins should have the same rights that Israel gives the Israelis.
And giving Palestinians the same rights is a key to peace in the Middle East. I pray one day my cousins can feel safe to play outside and have fun. And I don’t want them to feel scared when they’re outside trying to play with their other cousins. It’s inhumane, I can’t explain it. It’s really sad. Thank you.
Suha Abukhdeir: Thank you. Good evening everyone. I want to thank the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation for having us here tonight. We’re honored to be here. My name is Suha Abukhdeir. I’m the mother of Tariq Abukhdeir.
I cannot begin to describe the pain of seeing my beloved son held in an Israeli prison without charges, denied medical care and suffering from a brutal beating given to him by the Israeli police.
When I first heard about the vicious beating he faced at the hands of the Israeli police and saw his bloody and swollen face and his unconscious body in the hospital, I feared for his life and I didn’t know if he was going to survive.
I could not bear to watch the video of his beating. What if he was screaming for help and I could not be there for him? When I arrived at the hospital, when I found out about him being in jail and then taken to the hospital, I found an Israeli policeman at the hospital door.
And I asked him if I can go in and see my son. He refused at first. After my husband had pleaded with him he finally allowed me but proceeding to say, “You cannot get near him, you cannot touch him and you cannot speak to him.”
So I proceeded to go to the hospital room and I looked over and all I could see is this helpless body laying there – he had a distorted face. I did not recognize him. I didn’t know if he was alive, what had happened exactly. So I told my husband, “Please, don’t leave him” – because he was handcuffed to the hospital bed.
I felt like since he was handcuffed to the hospital bed that the same people that brought him to the hospital could take him right back. So I was afraid.
The next morning, we got a call from the American consul Josh Wagner and he told us that he had made an appointment for all of us to go see Tariq in jail. I found out before [consular official] Josh Wagner called that they took Tariq back to jail and I couldn’t believe it.
I knew he was on antibiotics so the first thought I had was “Are they really going to give him his antibiotics? Are they really going to take care of him? Are they going to feed him?”
And especially after seeing the condition he was in, I couldn’t bear to think he was in a jail cell when he should have stayed in the hospital. So the next morning we went with Josh Wagner to the jailhouse. So when we proceeded and told the Israeli police that Josh Wagner had an appointment to see Tariq today. They said no one was going to see any prisoners and that was it and they closed the prison doors in our face.
Josh Wagner could not believe it. He told them, “I am not going to leave here until I see him because I made an appointment with you guys and I’m going to stay until I see him.”
He proceeded to call the US embassy and the Israeli embassy back and forth for three hours until finally they agreed to let him in alone. So he got in – before he got in I told him, “Please Josh, can you just let me know of his condition. Ask him, is he eating, are they giving him his medications because the medications are in Hebrew and obviously he can’t read Hebrew.” These are the same people that beat him that now are caring for him.
I’m grateful to be back in America safe with my son but I know Palestinians go through what my son faced every day. Tariq was not able to grieve his cousin’s death or attend his cousin Muhammad’s funeral as a result of the beating Israeli police had given him that same day his cousin was brutally murdered by the Israeli extremists.
Instead of the police protecting us they taunted us, telling us that Muhammad was just the first to be killed and that 300 Palestinians would be killed for the three teenagers who were killed.
My son and family have been very traumatized by this whole experience. Our cousins are still in jail and the only reason Tariq is out is because he is an American citizen and his beating was caught on tape.
While some of the Israeli officials tried to justify the vicious beating my son received by smearing his name, my son has never been charged with any crime. Nothing, nothing can justify restraining the hands of a fifteen-year-old child and beating him unconscious. Although as Americans we enjoy great freedom in America, in Jerusalem we felt worse than second-class citizens because the Israeli government treated us differently because we had a different religion and ethnicity.
Like my Palestinian cousins I felt that my family had no rights. My son was viciously attacked while in custody. He was in jail for four days. We were forced to pay a $1,000 bond and my son faced nine days of house arrest away from his family – although he committed no crime and faced no charges.
When we left to America, Israeli police raided the family home where we were staying and arrested the males there. They’re still being held today without any charges. The Israeli police involved in the beating of my son must be held accountable so that no other mother must go through the pain that I went through.
My son still suffers from body aches and pains and headaches, not to mention the emotional trauma he must now struggle through. I just pray that America and the world can have the same sympathy for the countless children who are wrongfully arrested or even killed by Israel who do not carry a US passport like my son Tariq.
None of this would have happened if the Israeli government valued the life of my son Tariq and other Palestinian Muslim and Christian children in the same way they value the lives of Israeli children. Thank you.