TAMPA: Despite the red scars on his wrists, a souvenir from a summer vacation to see Palestinian relatives that became a nightmare, Tariq Khdeir felt lucky on Sunday as he described his apparent beating by Israeli police earlier this month.
Three cousins arrested with the U.S. teenager during clashes in east Jerusalem are still in jail, while Khdeir is free to think about the start of a new school year and make plans to go fishing back home in a quiet, gated subdivision in Florida.
The bruises on his face that drew international media attention have largely faded, although he suffers painful headaches that have not yet been fully evaluated by doctors.
“I am not scared, but I am mad,” the 15-year-old high school student told Reuters at his family’s tidy town home in Tampa, where his honor roll certificate decorates the kitchen fridge.
“I just got a taste of it,” he added. “There are still people back there going through worse than me.”
The Maryland-born teenager was caught up in the escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence after his cousin, Mohamed Abu Khodeir, 16, was abducted and killed in early July.
Khdeir said he was not participating in protests before his arrest. He had jumped a fence to avoid a police raid, but said he got caught and pinned down by Israeli police officers, who tied his hands and beat him until he was unconscious.
Khdeir awoke in a hospital, confused by the Hebrew spoken, and spent four days in an Israeli jail before being released under house arrest with the help of U.S. state officials.
His mother, Suha Khdeir, 36, said her Palestinian relatives could not understand why her son’s story received so much attention, when it seemed to them such a common experience.
“I felt like I lost my freedom over there,” she said, recalling explaining with embarrassment that her son was considered important because he was a U.S. citizen.
She has not yet been able to watch the full video of the teen, identified by relatives as Khdeir, being beaten. The tape helped to stoke the outcry over his treatment, which is under investigation by Israeli authorities.
Tariq Khdeir, who said he has watched the video many times, still wants to return to the region.
“I want to go back so bad,” he said. “I miss everybody there.”