I watched Israeli police beat my cousin
The scene opens with two masked men kneeling over what looks like a rice sack, one man holding it down, the other man repeatedly raising his right fist and pounding it. The fisted man stands up, giving us a clearer view, and begins stomping on the figure. Then it moves and we see a head and small body writhe in pain. The rice sack is a person. Long after the figure goes limp, the men continue the assault.
The unmoving rice sack was my cousin, 15-year-old Palestinian-American Tarek Abu Khdeir, from Tampa, Fla. The two masked men are Israeli police officers.
Videos and pictures of Tarek hit international mainstream and social media within hours — perhaps because he is tied to the brutal revenge kidnapping and murder of his cousin, 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir, or perhaps because he is an American. Tarek’s family, who live in communities across the United States and in Jerusalem, was lucky. Calls from journalists (about what high school he goes to and what his hobbies are) helped get him released from an Israeli jail and sent to a hospital.
The problem is that Tarek is not alone. This week’s violent attacks on two teenage boys, and an entire Jerusalem village, are not outliers. This is how Israeli security forces work, both inside and outside the Palestinian Territory.
State-sanctioned Israeli brutality toward local Palestinian populations is a regular occurrence in Israel and the West Bank. As a result of the disappearance of three Israeli teens hitchhiking in the West Bank (they were later murdered), Israel’s response was to kill six Palestinians, arrest some 700, invade 1,600 homes, schools and businesses and bomb more than 30 sites.
Though the Israeli authorities, with security coordination from the Palestinian Authority, had rampaged through the West Bank in search of suspects, rhetoric still oozed from Israeli government statements and calls for revenge flooded social media. Those calls for unencumbered violence sent a clear message to settlers and other Israelis who called for “Death to the Arabs” that lynch mobs targeting Palestinians were and are acceptable. Message received: One group kidnapped a teenage Palestinian boy, beat him to within an inch of death and then set his body on fire.
If you drive through Palestinian neighborhoods of occupied Jerusalem today, Arabic graffiti covers the walls warning against Israeli attacks: “Beware of child kidnappers.” “Hide your children.” From family reports, many of the individuals sent to the hospital or arrested as a result of funeral processions for Mohammad were under age 18. And now there’s the video of Tarek’s 15-year-old limp body being dragged away by grown men, hiding their faces behind a mask for (one can only hope) shame of being identified.
Is one child’s life more valuable in the eyes of humanity than another’s? According to the statistics and the silence of the international community (including and especially the United States), the ongoing and systematic attacks, night raids and arbitrary arrest of Palestinian children indicate the answer is yes.
Defense for Children International-Palestine, a children’s rights organization that documents and reports human rights violations against children worldwide, has documented the killing of more than 1,400 Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers and settlers since 2000. That translates to the killing of one Palestinian child at the hands of Israelis every three days for the past 13 years. In addition, there are 214 children in Israeli detention, 32 of whom are between 12 and 15. Human rights groups estimate that in the past five years, some 2,500 Palestinian children have been detained by Israel, some as young as 5.
Imagine sending your son or daughter to the corner store, only to have him or her hunted by violent fundamentalists systematically attacking a local ethnic population. This is Trayvon Martin, en masse.
Israeli children are not subject to night raids by masked men with automatic weapons, nor are they required to always carry documents attesting to their identity and residency. There is no such thing as separate but equal schools, neighborhoods or roads — they are inherently separate and unequal. The Palestinian child’s reality is a gruesome one punctuated by constant control by arbitrary Israeli directives and the whims of teenage soldiers just out of high school themselves.
Palestinian children are simply that — children — and are the only children in the world required to ensure the security of their occupier. The U.S. government, the provider of more than $3 billion in military aid to Israel every year, should be more assertive in standing up for the rights of those children.
Tamara Essayyad is a Palestinian-American attorney and policy commentator based in Washington. This column first appeared in The Washington Post.