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Tampa teen beaten by Israeli police tells his story (w/video)

TAMPA — At times, it doesn't feel real. But then Tariq Khdeir looks at the marks on his wrists from where the zip ties cut into his flesh and he remembers.

The reminders are everywhere: the ache in his ribs, his face on the news, the viral video that shows the police kicking him repeatedly. Now that he's home, it's almost surreal, the Palestinian-American teen says. Occasionally, he has to remind himself the boy in the video is him.

"I watched the video the day I got out of jail," Tariq, 15, said Sunday at his Tampa home. "I watched the video and I was like, 'Wow, that's really me.' "

The past few weeks are a blur to Tariq and his family. First, his cousin, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was abducted and burned to death in what Palestinians are calling an act of revenge for the killing of three Israeli teenagers three weeks prior.

The next day, Tariq was handcuffed and beaten by Israeli police officers in East Jerusalem during a protest before his cousin's funeral. He spent the next three days in jail before a court sentenced him to nine days of home detention.

"We were mourning this loss of our cousin and all of a sudden this happens," Tariq's mother, Suha Khdeir said. "My husband now is like, 'Should we pinch each other? Is this a nightmare?' "

Listening to her son repeat his story is difficult for Suha. No mother wants to hear her son describe what it felt like when the police officer's boot connected with his ribs over and over again. She winces as he described how he screamed for them to stop.

But Tariq appears almost stoic as he shares the details. He recalls how he left the family home to see the commotion outside from the protest. Suddenly, people started running. He saw police in the background and ran, too. He faltered when he jumped a fence and that's when they grabbed him. He said they bound his wrists immediately and then started to kick and punch him. He felt helpless and confused.

"Why are they doing this?" he said he remembered thinking. "Did I do something wrong?"

He said he blacked out during the beating and woke blindfolded. As he drifted in and out of consciousness, he heard voices of police officers mixed with familiar voices from his village. He tried to piece things together, but found it difficult to hear, let alone stay awake. He was later told he was kept in a jail cell for six hours.

The next time he woke, he was handcuffed to a hospital bed. An Israeli guard tried to prevent his mother from seeing him, she said. Eventually, she was allowed to look in on Tariq from the doorway as he slept. The boy with the swollen face and blackened eyes didn't look like her son.

After 12 hours in the hospital, Tariq was returned to a jail cell where he stayed with other members of his village. The guards would curse and call them names, he said. He wasn't allowed to communicate with his family until a hearing several days later. Time dragged and fears mounted.

When the hearing date arrived, Tariq was ordered into house arrest. A police officer accused of beating Tariq was later suspended for 15 days — a punishment the family says is too light.

The Khdeirs returned to Tampa late Wednesday night and Tariq had a few days to reconnect with friends before the news media interviews began. For hours Sunday, Tariq sat on the couch in his living room and retold his story. When one news crew left, another stepped in. Tariq sought respite when he could, going upstairs to get away from the cameras and questions.

"I've said the story so many times," Tariq said. "I talked to my friends so many times about the story and how I feel, how I'm happy to be home, how I'm happy to be able to talk to you guys and to be actually alive."

The interviews are scheduled to span through Wednesday, said Hassan Shibly, the family's attorney and executive director of CAIR, the Florida Council on American Islamic Relations, who guided Tariq through them.

His mother has seen how it all has worn on him. The beating and detention were traumatizing enough. His ribs still throb and his head never seems to stop pounding. Now, he's sleeping more than usual, Suha Khdeir said, and he's more combative when they talk.

"He's like, 'You don't understand. I'm the one that went through this,' " Suha said. "When he reminds me of that, I kind of back off from my end. It's not fair, really, for me to say anything."

Tariq said, despite everything, he fully intends to return to his family's village.

"I want to go back so badly," Tariq said. "I miss everybody there. I really feel bad for the people over there and what they're having to go through.

Tariq will start his sophomore year next month at Universal Academy of Florida. He said he's looking forward to being back in school and going back to his regular routine, but that his experience in Jerusalem is not something he will ever move past completely.

"I'm never going to forget about what happened to me, what happened to my cousin, what happened to the whole city," Tariq said. "I'll never forget the way I felt when I was over there. I felt like I was living with them. I felt like I was going through the same thing."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.

Tampa teen beaten by Israeli police tells his story (w/video) 07/20/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 21, 2014 8:32am]
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