The purpose of the hearing was to address Israeli impunity and US complicity in crimes against Palestinians. Tariq was one of six panelists to address the room, which was overflowing with congressional staffers.
Moderated by author and campaigner Josh Ruebner, other panelists included Tariq’s mother, Suha Abu Abukhdeir; Hassan Shibly of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Florida chapter; Sunjeev Bery from Amnesty International; Brad Parker from Defence for Children International and Palestinian author Laila El-Haddad.
Though he was just one of six speakers, Tariq’s testimony was especially powerful as he relayed to the audience the horrors and discrimination he witnessed and experienced as a Palestinian-American child visiting his ancestral homeland.
But just as Tariq started to detail the Israeli beating that left him unconscious and unrecognizable, CSPAN 2, which was broadcasting the hearing live, cut to the Senate floor.
You can watch the whole thing back on CSPAN’s website. The cut from Tariq to Boxer occurs soon after time code 03:30.
Suppressing Palestinian voices
Tariq began his testimony by describing the widespread violence Israeli soldiers inflicted on his neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem after his cousin and best friend, sixteen-year-old Muhammad Abu Khudair, was kidnapped and burned alive by Jewish vigilantes who were incited to violence by Israeli leaders following the murder of three Israeli teens hitchhiking from an illegal settlement in the West Bank.
Tariq and several of his cousins watched from an alley, Tariq explained, as Israeli soldiers shot rubber bullets at protesters. Eventually the soldiers were attacking in Tariq’s direction, prompting a terrified Tariq to run. After he jumped a fence and tripped, “the Israeli police grabbed me from behind, slammed my face into the floor, zip-tied my hands behind my back and started to kick me and punch me in the face and in the ribs,” recounted Tariq.
For those tuning into CSPAN, this was the last they heard from Tariq, whose speech was suddenly replaced by Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer from California on the Senate floor agitating for greater support for Israel to a mostly empty room as most most elected representatives had departed that day for a five-week recess.
CSPAN told the The Electronic Intifada that the channel is required to cut to the Senate floor when an elected official is speaking.
Boxer’s office did not respond to calls asking if the senator was aware that the hearing was taking place. However, organizers collecting names of congressional staffers in attendance told The Electronic Intifada that an intern from Boxer’s office tried to get into the hearing but left because there was no space, suggesting Boxer knew she was interrupting the hearing.
Israeli talking points
Boxer spent the next fifteen minutes spewing semi-coherent platitudes about Israeli victimhood. “We all know that our ally Israel is in a fight for its survival because a terrorist group, so named by the United States and Europe, is at war with Israel right now,” Boxer declared.
In what seemed like a transparent attempt to counter Tariq’s narrative, Boxer added, “we remember how it all started with the kidnapping of three Israeli boys and their torture and their death and a mosque praised that. Tragically there was a revenge killing and the Israeli government arrested the Israelis responsible for that and they are going to face justice while Hamas praises, praises what happened.”
As usual, reality tells a much different story.
Even Israeli officials openly admit that Hamas was not responsible for the kidnapping or the murder of the three Israeli teens, whose disappearance was used by the Israeli government as a pretext to rampage through the West Bank, ransacking homes and arresting hundreds of people under the guise of a rescue mission for three boys that authorities knew had been killed hours after they were reported missing.
Boxer also championed the lie that Hamas broke the ceasefire that same Friday morning by capturing an Israeli soldier.
It has since been revealed that the Israelis broke the ceasefire and subsequently carpet bombed Rafah with the stated aim of killing an Israeli soldier because the Israeli army suspected he had been captured — a procedure known as the Hannibal Directive. In an attempt to kill their own soldier, the Israeli army slaughtered more than 150 Palestinians across Rafah, which has sustained incalculable damage.
As Boxer continued to spew Israeli talking points, the reason for her tirade on the Senate floor became increasingly unclear. One moment she was blaming Hamas for violating that morning’s ceasefire and the next she was urging the Senate to allow Israel to participate in the US Visa Waiver Program.
At the end of Boxer’s rant, CSPAN cut back to the hearing in time to catch Suha Abukhdeir’s closing remark: “The life of a Palestinian in Gaza should be valued as much as the life of any human being.”
Next at the podium was CAIR Florida’s Hassan Shibly, who said, “As an American attorney, what happened to Tariq Abukhdeir at the hands of a nation that claims to be a democracy and claims to be an ally of the United States and —” That’s as far as Shibly got before he was replaced by live footage of Boxer once again on the Senate floor. This time Boxer was joined by Democratic Senator Harry Reid from Nevada. The two interrupted the remainder of the hearing discussing various pieces of legislation that can’t even be voted on until the Senate reconvenes in September.
Given the choke-hold pro-Israel lobbying organizations like AIPAC have on US elected officials, it is plausible Boxer’s maneuvering was orchestrated to suppress the reach of an open and honest conversation about Israeli criminality, much like US President Lyndon Johnson called an impromptu press conference to interrupt televised coverage of former sharecropper and civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer’s moving testimony at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
Palestinian voices are a threat
The pro-Israel community has every reason to worry about the airing of Palestinian voices like Tariq’s, Suha’s and Laila El-Haddad’s.
Their experiences are undeniable proof of the supremacist ideology that governs Israeli society and subjugates Palestinians, even those who hold American passports. Indeed, it is because Tariq is American that his story is so powerful.
In the United States, he is afforded basic rights that he was violently denied in occupied Palestine simply because he is Palestinian, a paradox that shatters the myth of Israel as a democratic state.
A family under attack
“The Palestinian people, they don’t have rights,” said Tariq at the hearing. “When I visited over there, I actually forgot that I had freedom. And for my cousins, I really wish that they had the same freedoms that I have living in America.”
Tariq later explained to The Electronic Intifada that his cousins and friends who were beaten and arrested alongside him in early July are still languishing in Israeli jails.
One cousin in particular, Mahmoud, is Tariq’s closest friend and was beaten and arrested while trying to help Tariq.
“Mahmoud is 15 and a half like me,” Tariq told The Electronic Intifada. “Him and Muhammad [Abu Khudair], God rest his soul, were my first two friends that I made in Palestine. I hung out with Mahmoud and Muhammad every day.”
Hours after learning that their best friend was forced to drink gasoline and burned alive, Tariq and Mahmoud were chased and tackled by Israeli police as part of the Israeli government’s ongoing war on Muhammad Abu Khudair’s entire extended family in the Shuafat neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem.
“Mahmoud got away but he came back to help me and got grabbed and punched and kicked, just like me,” recounted Tariq.
The arrest and terror campaign inflicted on the extended Abu Khudair family by the Israeli government has denied them an opportunity to truly mourn the loss of Muhammad.
“Tariq was not able to grieve his cousin’s death as a result of the beating Israeli police gave him that same day that his cousin was brutally murdered by Israeli extremists,” said Suha Abukhdeir. “Instead of the police protecting us they taunted us and told us that Muhammad was just the first to be killed and that 300 Palestinians would be killed for the three Israeli teenagers who were killed.”
It appears they made good on that promise in Gaza, where more than 1,800 Palestinians, overwhelmingly civilians, have been mercilessly slaughtered in one Israeli massacre after another.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has intensified its attack on Tariq’s family.
“The day after I left Palestine, they arrested all the males in the house I was staying in, without any charges,” said Tariq, whose family home in occupied East Jerusalem was raided by Israeli police hours after he departed the country.
Another American teen in Israeli jail
One panelist after another reminded the audience that the only exceptional things about Tariq’s beating were that it was caught on film, and he has an American passport. Otherwise, what happened to him is routine for Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation.
Perhaps the lack of video footage can help explain the ongoing imprisonment of fifteen-year-old Mohammed Abu Nie, an American citizen who is still in Israeli jail after he was arrested with Tariq in early July.
Tariq told The Electronic Intifada that he, Abu Nie and his cousin Mahmoud were together watching the protests when they were chased, tackled and arrested by Israeli police.
Abu Nie’s imprisonment was largely unheard of until the daily US State Department press briefing on 28 July.
In response to a question about the status of Abu Nie’s case, US State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki revealed that the American teen “was arrested on July 3rd during protests in the Shuafat neighborhood in East Jerusalem” and, like Tariq, stands accused of “rock-throwing, attacking police, carrying a knife, and leading protests,” all of which is untrue, according to Tariq, who insists they were only watching and not participating in the protests.
According to the State Department, Abu Nie has not seen his parents since the night he was detained and there are allegations that he has been beaten while in custody.
Psaki said that the US is “gravely concerned about the detention of an American citizen child” but is “calling for a speedy resolution” rather than Abu Nie’s release.
“My tax dollars killed my family”
Laila El-Haddad, a Gaza City native who lives in Columbia, Maryland, opened her speech with a soul-crushing statement.
“My tax dollars killed eight members of my family this morning,” said El-Haddad. She went on to list the names and ages of her slaughtered relatives, seven members of the El-Farra family. Among them were three children. Two of them were fleeing when they were killed by a second Israeli air strike.
El-Haddad proceeded to deliver a short and damning history lesson about the population that Israel has ghettoized in the Gaza Strip:
The reality is Gaza right now is being bombarded. It is completely blocked out, besieged and blockaded. This is a situation unheard of in modern history for a population that is already largely refugees, that is already besieged, that is already stateless to then be bombarded mercilessly with no intervention.
Gaza is roughly twice the size of Washington, DC, where we all sit today. It has a little over a million and half inhabitants, 1.7 going on 1.8. Most of those inhabitants are under the age of 18. Three-quarters of them are refugees, meaning they are not from the place they are compelled to live. They are from towns and villages, many of them depopulated, destroyed, ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias prior to 1948 and they sought refuge in Gaza and they were besieged in Gaza and they are not allowed to return to their native lands.
Thanks to Senator Boxer’s lengthy tirade, El-Haddad’s testimony did not air.
But at least one lawmaker heard her story.
Democratic Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota — who recently issued a call in The Washington Post for an end to the crippling blockade on Gaza, a rare and risky move for any American politician — was the only elected official to attend the hearing.
Signifying a tiny but important crack in unwavering support for Israeli crimes among US elected officials, Ellison also made an appearance at an event featuring Tariq later that evening at Busboys and Poets, a DC restaurant that often serves as a progressive meeting spot.
“I’m embarrassed we haven’t done more,” he told the crowd that night.