TAMPA, Fla. – A Palestinian-American teen left with stitches and bruises from his detention by Israeli security forces said Sunday he was beaten, kicked and blindfolded on a family trip to the Middle East after a cousin there was abducted and killed.
Fifteen-year-old Tariq Abu Khdeir flew home to Florida last week and told The Associated Press that he holds out hope he can visit the region again and “come back safe.”
Israeli authorities released Tariq three days after he was detained and sentenced him to nine days of house arrest while they investigated what they said was his participation in violent protests over the death of his cousin, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian living near Jerusalem.
Seated beside his mother, the teen told AP that he did not take part in rock-throwing disturbances shortly before he was picked up by Israeli security forces. He said he just was watching and listening to a commotion surrounding the investigation of his cousin’s disappearance when Israeli forces began shooting rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd that had formed.
“I didn’t do anything to them (Israeli authorities) to do this to me,” he said.
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The teen said in the first moments of being picked up, he was slammed down. And during the ordeal, he said, he was kicked in several parts of his body and blindfolded.
At the time, the family was on a trip that began in June and was expected to last about six weeks.
Tariq said he and Mohammed had struck up a quick friendship. They visited sacred sites including the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. He said they helped set up lights in neighbour’s homes before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“He took me to as many places as he could,” Tariq said.
Mohammed was killed the fifth week of the visit, Tariq said. He said he had gone off to a bakery for about five minutes the day Mohammed disappeared, returning to find him gone.
After Mohammed was found dead, a crowd filled with family members formed and started screaming at the police, Tariq said.
“Everything was getting so tense,” he recalled.
The neighbourhood calmed before security forces came back and started shooting rubber bullets and tear gas, according to Tariq. He saw people on his left running and screaming for help. Right behind them were three soldiers, he said. Everyone scattered and ran from the alley. Tariq said he tried to jump a gate but fell.
“I was running because I didn’t know why they (Israeli authorities) were running after me,” he said.
Tariq said he was slammed down, head first, when he was detained. He added that his hands were tied behind his back and he was kicked in the face, stomach and ribs and went unconscious for a time. Tariq was taken to jail where he was blindfolded and still handcuffed, he added.
Tariq said he felt the hits again when he watched a video of his beating after his release.
“I couldn’t believe it. All the stuff I went through,” Tariq said. “I was getting hit so much, I couldn’t even say words. They beat on me like … there was no problem.”
© The Canadian Press, 2014