Israel suspends officer in beating of Tampa teen; criminal charges possible

McClatchy Foreign StaffJuly 9, 2014 

Mideast Israel Palestinians

Palestinian-American Tariq Abu Khdeir who was beaten by Israeli border police and the mother of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was abducted and burned to death last week meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah, July 7, 2014

MOHAMAD TOROKMAN — AP

— The Israeli Justice Ministry said Wednesday that a police officer who allegedly kicked and beat an American teenager in East Jerusalem has been suspended for 15 days and faces possible criminal charges.

In a statement, the ministry’s Police Investigations Department said that the officer was suspected of “severe violent crimes, committed after the arrest of the minor, and while the minor was handcuffed.”

The ministry did not release the name of the officer, nor did it explain why only one officer was suspected of violent crimes in the beating of Tariq Khdeir, a 15-year-old high school sophomore from Tampa, Fla. Videos of the beating show that three officers were involved in the incident. The footage shows one officer holding the teen while a second one kicks him. A third officer joins in. All three officers can be seen carrying the teen away.

Khdeir was visiting family in East Jerusalem last week when his cousin, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was abducted and burned to death, apparently in retaliation for the deaths of three Jewish students whose bodies had been found two days earlier.

Abu Khdeir’s death set off disturbances in East Jerusalem, an Arab area. Police claim that Tariq Khdeir was masked and had been throwing rocks during a “severe riot” when he was detained.

Tariq maintains that he was only watching events when the police grabbed him. Onlookers filmed him lying prone on the ground as two border police officers brutalized him, with one repeatedly stamping on his head. In the tape, Tariq’s head is wrapped in a red- and white-checked scarf that Palestinian youths often use to hide their faces while throwing rocks; the family has claimed Tariq was shielding his face from tear gas.

When the video surfaced Thursday, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said it had been “edited and biased,” but it drew a sharp response from the United States. “We are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Tariq Khdeir was released Sunday to house arrest. Photographs taken of him showed a boy with two black eyes and swollen lips.

On Wednesday, his father, Salahedeen Khdeir, said he was pleased to hear that a man who beat his son could face charges, although he said he had not been officially notified.

“I hope to see justice for my son,” he said.

He said that Tariq has begun recovering and that he had not lost any teeth or suffered broken bones. The elder Khdeir said he planned to engage a psychologist to see his son to avoid trauma.

“This is attempted murder,” Khdeir said. “I went today to the place he was hit and I saw the blood. I was very mad. I don’t want to give anyone a chance to do that again.”

Cheslow is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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