by Mitchell Plitnick
It is a nightmare day for the Khdeir family, in East Jerusalem and in Tampa, Florida. It’s worth taking a close look at the conditions they are facing in light of crimes committed against some of their youngest members that most of us will, thankfully, never have to come close to experiencing.
On Friday, it was revealed that Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the 16-year old boy from the Shu’afat refugee camp in East Jerusalem died not from the blows to the head he received, but was burned alive. The revelation comes from a Palestinian Authority autopsy, and Israel, which initially had control of the body, has not issued a denial, so that seems as conclusive as anything gets in this arena.
On the same day, amid protests in East Jerusalem that saw a number of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces, several masked Israeli police officers were caught on videotape viciously beating 15-year old Tariq Khdeir during a protest in East Jerusalem. The video clearly shows a number of savage blows being delivered to Tariq while he was helpless on the ground. And then it shows him being dragged away to jail where his family could not contact him and he did not receive medical treatment for hours.
Tariq Khdeir before and after the beating
Understandably, Palestinians living both under the occupation regime in the West Bank and as second-class citizens in Israel have taken to the streets, protesting and burning tires, despite the words of Muhammad’s father calling “…on both sides to stop the bloodshed.” But in Israel, despite significant public demonstrations condemning acts of vengeance, calls of “Death to Arabs” continue to proliferate on social media and in the atmosphere in the country. Rumors at this writing are circulating that there will soon be a series of pogroms against Arabs in Israel, while rioting in Arab towns, rockets from Gaza and massive Israeli retaliation in the Strip continue.
But who is hiding? Well, according to reports, it is the Khdeir family who is hiding. Tariq’s aunt spoke to Tampa’s Bay News 9 about her reaction to the beating. “It’s so hard just thinking about this; I’m dried out of tears i can’t even cry anymore,” she said. “He’s got a broken jaw. He’s only 15. … He has a broken nose, swollen-shut eyes, two black eyes and a swollen head.”
But it was the next sentence that caught my attention: “The aunt, whose identity Bay News 9 is withholding for her safety, said she is trying to contain her anger and frustration.”
Wait, her safety? Indeed, yes. This poor woman lives in Florida, where there is no shortage of self-styled “Defenders of Israel,” who care nothing about Israel’s future or the lives of Israelis (and place no value at all on the lives of Palestinians) but are, in reality, nothing more than fanatical Jewish and Christian zealots who would not balk for a second at attacking this family, accusing them of somehow fabricating this unconscionable assault and even threatening the Khdeir family’s safety.
Similar reports have reflected some anonymity for some of the Abu Khdeir family in Shuafat, although this is likely a futile gesture; the family can easily be found if someone wants to. But the fact that the families of the victims are so scared speaks volumes about the situation for Palestinians, in the Territories and abroad. Imagine for a moment if you had heard that Rodney King’s family was keeping their anonymity for fear of reprisals. What would you think?
But the families’ desire for some opacity served one purpose: it gave the State Department the excuse, however flimsy, that it used to delay making any kind of statement about an American citizen being beaten by Israeli police and held without charge. Eventually, however, it was impossible to remain silent, and State did finally issue a statement on Saturday afternoon. It was not a very good one.
The statement they issued a few days earlier in response to the death of Muhammad Abu Khdeir was unusually strong. The U.S. does not have a good track record of strong statements when the victims are Palestinian. But in this case, the condemnation matched the crime.
Of course, Muhammad was probably killed by Jewish extremists, not the Israeli government. However much one might argue that the current right-wing government has incited such terrible acts, no one seriously believes that official Israeli forces were involved in that horror. Such, however, is not the case with Tariq.
No, Tariq was beaten by the Israeli police in a manner consistent with reports of many other assaults by Israeli security forces against Palestinian civilians. Condemning that opens up a can of worms with Israel and, more importantly, with Israel’s supporters in the United States. So, this time, all State would say is this:
“We can confirm that Tariq Khdeir, an American citizen, is being held by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem. He was visited by an official from the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem today.
“We are profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force. We are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force.
“We reiterate our grave concern about the increasing violent incidents, and call on all sides to take steps to restore calm and prevent harm to innocents.”
There is, as always, no hint that there is any difference between the two sides, that one is an occupying power with enormous military and political resources and the other is a dispossessed and disenfranchised people whose “government” controls virtually nothing. And there is certainly no hint that Israel must be held accountable for the beating its police gave a helpless American citizen, which the entire world can see on video.
That is the very definition of fecklessness. That is why the United States can never be anything but an obstacle to peace.
Photo: Israeli soldiers and police block Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem on March 14, 2010. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS