TAMPA — Tariq Khdeir, the Tampa teenager whose videotaped beating at the hands of Israeli police attracted international attention, returned home Wednesday night to a cheering crowd of dozens of friends, family members and supporters.
Wearing khaki shorts and a black Nike shirt, Tariq, 15, showed few signs of the July 3 beating. Pictures after that incident showed the teen with a badly bruised face and mouth, but the only obvious sign Wednesday of what had happened two weeks before was a barely perceptible swelling around his left cheek.
The crowd rushed Tariq when he arrived at the terminal at Tampa International Airport shortly before 11 p.m., showering him with hugs and kisses. One woman held aloft a Palestinian flag; several people waved American flags. “You're a hero,'' someone in the crowd yelled.
Tariq and his mother both briefly addressed the crowd and throng of reporters but didn't take questions. Both thanked the Tampa area for its support during the last two weeks, and both spoke about Tariq's cousin, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped and burned alive in what Palestinian authorities said was a revenge attack by Israeli extremists after three Israeli teens were killed in the Gaza Strip.
“You know my story because I'm an American, but I hope you remember my cousin ... this whole thing started because he was killed,'' Tariq said.
Tariq, who is an American citizen of Palestinian descent, was at a protest July 3 following his cousin's killing when he was arrested, handcuffed and beaten by Israeli police. His family said he was only observing, but Israeli authorities said he was one of several masked protesters who were throwing rocks at police.
He was sentenced to nine days of house arrest in Jerusalem while authorities investigated his involvement in the violent protest. His family said the teen suffered several broken bones and internal bleeding and was denied adequate medical care during the several days he was held in an Israeli prison. Tariq and his family had been in Israel since early June visiting relatives.
The beating was captured on video, which, along with photos of Tariq's swollen face, brought international attention to the case. Several days after the beating, the teenager met briefly with the Palestinian president.
Tariq's mother, Suha, said she “cannot begin to describe to you the pain I felt when I looked at his face for the first time after that beating.”
“I know that all the mothers and fathers out there, including the parents of the three Israeli teenagers who were tragically killed, understand this kind of pain,” she said.
Tariq's uncle, Hamdi Swelem, said family members hope to take Tariq to a doctor today for a CT scan or other medical tests.
“I'm very excited to see him,'' Swelem said shortly before the family arrived. “I'm not believing it yet. I'm not going to show him any anger (against the Israeli government), I am going to show him that we're proud and happy that he's back in his country.''
The crowd at the airport included Hamva Khan, 16, who attends Universal Academy of Florida with Tariq. He said Tariq was better treated after the beating because of the media attention and because he's from the United States.
“Tariq is able to live because he's an American and he's surviving because he's an American,'' Khan said. “There are kids dying there every day.''