Tariq Khedeir on his arrival at Tampa International Airport..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The American cousin of slain Arab teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir whose videotaped beating by two Israeli police officers during his arrest for rioting in east Jerusalem two weeks ago drew international condemnation, returned to his home in Florida on Wednesday night.
Upon arriving at Tampa International Airport, Tariq Khdeir, 15, was greeted by cheering relatives, friends and media. He said he felt good, while bruises on his face that spurred a probe into the beating while in police custody, were significantly faded.
Calling his attack by police “the scariest thing that has happened to me,” Abu Khdeir told reporters he believes his story drew outrage largely because he is a US citizen.
“You only know my story because I am an American,” he said. “I am only 15, but I will never think about freedom in the same way.”
A high school student attending a private Islamic school in Tampa, Abu Khdeir was vacationing in Jerusalem with his parents and younger sisters on a summer trip to visit their Palestinian relatives. He was arrested during a riot after his 16-year-old cousin was abducted, tortured and killed in early July, sparking calls from Palestinians for a third intifada.
According to police, prior to his arrest, Abu Khdeir was masked, armed and actively participating in rioting against officers during a violent demonstration in northeast Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood the day before his cousin’s funeral.
“He was an active participant in a riot with five masked Palestinians, armed with knives and throwing fire bombs and rocks at police,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said of the American’s arrest.
Abu Khdeir and his family have repeatedly denied any involvement in clashes with police prior to his arrest.
However, noting that the American was disarmed after wielding a “long, sharp object” at the time of his arrest, Rosenfeld questioned their claims of innocence.
“One of the questions also being asked by police is how a Florida student ends up breaking the law in Israel by being involved in a full-scale riot in Shuafat,” he said.
The Maryland-born teenager’s homecoming follows his release from house arrest in Israel, where an investigation into his treatment by police by the Justice Ministry is continuing.
Since the video surfaced, the two arresting officers seen pummeling the boy while he was face-down on the ground have been suspended.
Friends and relatives in Florida awaiting his return said they are anxious for him to be evaluated by US doctors.
Abu Khdeir’s father complained that Israeli officers denied his son proper medical treatment after they beat him.
In the meantime, the teen told reporters that he looks forward to returning to school and going fishing with his friends. He and his mother also asked supporters to remember all the children killed in recent weeks during the resurgent Israeli-Palestinian violence.
“They have names like mine,” Abu Khdeir said. “No child, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli, deserves to die that way.”