Over the past week, the American press has latched on to the story of Tariq Khdeir, the 15-year-old Palestinian American whose beating at the hands of Israeli police in Jerusalem was caught on video for the world to see.
CNN couldn’t get enough. Wolf Blitzer interviewed Tariq’s aunt on national television. Much to the surprise of viewers, she spoke perfect English, accent-free.
And CNN wasn’t alone in its fascination:
The New York Times: Beating of Palestinian-American Boy Caught on Video
Huffington Post: Tariq Abu Khdeir Was Beaten By Israeli Police
USA Today: Family of teen beaten in Israel pleads for his return
Los Angeles Times: American teen beaten in Mideast is a cousin of slain Palestinian
The US State Department even got in on the reporting, saying that it could “confirm that Tariq Khdeir, an American citizen, is being held by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem.” It even noted that it was “profoundly troubled” by reports that Tariq was “severely beaten,” calling for “a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force.” (Read the full State Department statement here)
Tariq is getting a lot of attention. And his government is asking for accountability. Of course, it’s not because he is a Palestinian. No, it’s because he is an American. It’s because he lives in Florida. It’s because while he is one of “them,” he is also one of “us.” And thank God for that.
See, if Tariq wasn’t one of us, he would be just like one of the over 1,500 Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces since 2000. If he were not a high school sophomore in Tampa, he would be just like one of the 37 children killed in Israel’s 2012 bombing campaign of Gaza, Operation Pillar of Defense. If he were not a normal American kid who listened to hip hop music, he would have been just like one of the 352 children killed in Israel’s December 2008 offensive, Operation Cast Lead. If he were not one of us, he might be just like the 8 children killed so far in Israel’s current Gaza attack, Operation Protective Edge. See, when Israel names an operation, she means business.
If Tariq were not an American, he would be just like Mustafa Tamimi. Mustafa was killed in 2011 after being shot in the head at close range by a tear gas canister. He lived in Nabi Saleh, a West Bank village that has been protesting weekly against Israeli confiscation of its land. An investigation was commenced, and while Israel found Mustafa’s death to be “regrettable,” she found no fault, except for that of Mustafa, of course. “Tamimi put himself at unnecessary risk, unfortunately resulting in his death.” She also found that “the shooting of the canister was done in accordance with the relevant rules and regulations.” See, in Israel, there are rules about how you shoot a tear gas canister at a Palestinian guy less than ten meters away from you.
If Tariq were not an American, he would be just like Iman El-Hams. 13-year-old Iman was killed in 2004 when she was shot 17 times near a checkpoint in Gaza. Iman was walking near a checkpoint carrying a bag when Israeli soldiers spotted her. After shooting her bag to confirm that it did not contain explosives, Iman began to run away. Although the soldiers on the scene had confirmed that she was a child, she was shot as she tried to run away. After falling to the ground, she approached by an Israeli soldier who shot her more than a dozen more times to “confirm the kill.” After numerous investigations, the soldier was found guilty of nothing, even though he said he would have done the same had it been a 3-year-old child. Oh, and Iman’s bag contained a bunch of textbooks. The soldier was promoted in rank and compensated for his defense expenditures. Israel found that he had not fallen afoul of the law. See, in Israel there are rules about how you repeatedly shoot a Palestinian girl carrying a bookbag near a checkpoint.
If Tariq weren’t like us, we might have never heard his name. But Tariq is an American, so he will get our attention. And getting attention means getting justice, right? Well, not necessarily. While Israeli officials have made it clear that they will investigate the “allegations” of police brutality (there’s clear video evidence by the way, so you really have to have a lot of chutzpah to call it “allegations”), they have also made it clear that they will continue to investigate Tariq, who they say might have been throwing rocks. It sounds ridiculous, unless you remember that in Israel, rock thrower vs. tank = fair fight.
And let us not forget the case of another American who once showed solidarity with us Palestinians. Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an American-made, Israeli-driven bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, as she protested the indiscriminate destruction of Palestinian homes. Her death was investigated, and no one was found responsible, despite numerous eyewitness accounts that the operator of the machine must have seen her before running her over. Israel said that Rachel and her partners in the International Solidarity Movement were acting “irresponsibly.” See, Israel even has rules for how you drive your bulldozer over a woman directly in front of you.
Even more alarming than the Israeli refusal to dispense justice (which was predictable) was the official American disinclination to push Israel for a real investigation (which was sadly predictable as well). If America was not willing to push Israel after the depraved killing of a white Christian woman from Washington, what would ever make me think my government would even nudge her after the simple beating of a brown Muslim kid from Florida?
Tariq’s passport might mean more cameras in his face, but it won’t mean more justice. But for now, I’ll take the cameras. It’s more than I’m used to.