Tariq Abukhdeir's mother says he was beaten unconscious last year
Suha Abukhdeir: We must ensure this never happens again to any child
Editor’s Note: Suha Abukhdeir is a Palestinian-American, mother of three children, and resides in Tampa, Florida. The views expressed are her own.
Last summer, while visiting our family in Shuafat, a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, my son Tariq was chased, zip-tied, and beaten unconscious by Israeli police officers as he watched a protest. The protest was in response to the kidnapping and killing of his 16-year-old friend and cousin, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, by Israeli settlers the day before.
As the policemen lifted my unconscious son’s body away to prison, two officers continued to kick his limp body and face. In prison, he had to wait six hours before receiving medical attention. And we had to wait several months for him to be cleared of wrongdoing in the case. When I first saw Tariq after the beating, I did not recognize him; his face was badly bruised and his eyes were nearly swollen shut. I thought he was dead. I wanted to get closer to him, to see if he was breathing, to let him know I was there. But the hospital officials barred me from entering his room.
I wish I could say what happened to Tariq is extremely unusual, but it’s not. Every year, somewhere between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are typically prosecuted in Israeli military courts, according to Defense for Children International Palestine. Human rights groups have documented abuse of these children and, in some cases, torture at the hands of Israeli soldiers, interrogators and policemen.
Most likely you have never heard these stories. So why are you hearing about my son?
There are two main reasons. One is that Tariq is an American citizen, which has put our case in the international spotlight. The other is that his beating was caught on camera and posted online for the world to see.
Although his savage beating has been viewed millions of times around the world, the police officers who beat Tariq have not been held accountable for the heinous crimes they committed. One officer was charged with the assault of a minor with the intent to cause injuries, but there were at least two other officers who actively participated in what I view as attempted murder. The name of the officer charged has not been released and there is no certainty that, despite being charged, he was actually convicted of anything.
As Palestinians, we knew that the Israeli justice system was rigged against us. As U.S. citizens, we held out hope that in the aftermath of Tariq’s beating, the international scrutiny would pressure Israel to follow through on charges. We now fear that Tariq’s Palestinian roots will prevent him from ever receiving the justice owed to him.
As a mother and as a human being who cannot stand to see children abused, I cannot let this go. That is why, this week, Tariq and I are traveling to Washington to speak at a congressional briefing as part of the No Way to Treat a Child campaign. We are asking the U.S. State Department to elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority status in our bilateral relationship with Israel. We also call on Israeli authorities to adhere to international laws regarding the treatment of children that they have obligated themselves to implement, including the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
It is important to stress that these are only temporary safeguards and that, ultimately, the prolonged Israeli military occupation of Palestinian land must end and Palestinians must have equal rights for a just and lasting peace to take hold. Until then, ordinary people like me must continue to insist that our governments hold Israel accountable to international law in an effort to end the status quo of systemic impunity.
The series of painful events that our family went through last summer have taken a toll on all our lives. After returning to Florida, where we live, I would look at my son’s face and wonder, did that beating cause brain damage? What sort of emotional scars will Tariq have to cope with for the rest of his life? What has been the impact of all this on his two younger sisters? What will become of our family in Jerusalem now that their American relatives are gone? The day we left, Tariq’s uncle and two cousins were detained by Israeli soldiers and held without charges. I can only assume they did so to try to silence us, to remind us that they are the occupiers, the ones in power.
This horrifying cycle must be broken. The Israeli officers that tied my child up and beat him unconscious must be held accountable for what they did in a transparent manner. We must also ensure that this never happens again to any child, anywhere in the world.