TAMPA, Fla. – The Palestinian-American teenager who relatives allege was beaten by Israeli authorities returned home to Florida late Wednesday, saying he will never think of freedom in the same way again.
Tariq Abu Khdeir, 15, and his mother flew back to Tampa on a flight arriving from New York and were greeted by about 50 cheering supporters waving American and Palestinian flags. The Khdeirs had flown out of Israel earlier in the day.
"I am only 15 but I will never think of freedom the same as I did two months ago," Tariq said upon arrival at Tampa International Airport. "No child, Palestinian or Israeli, deserves to be killed."
The teenager, who spoke only a few minutes, said prayers had helped him through his ordeal. He also said he can't wait to see his friends and go fishing.
Hassan Shibly, the teen's attorney and the executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, had said Tariq suffered head trauma and had to receive stitches on his face when beaten two weeks ago as he was arrested during a protest. Supporters say Tariq's beating was videotaped. The Israeli justice ministry has said an investigation has been opened into the footage.
There were no immediately apparent signs of injuries to Khdeir on his arrival.
Israeli authorities released Tariq shortly after his arrest and sentenced him to nine days of house arrest while they investigated what they say was his participation in violent protests over the death of Tariq's cousin, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir. His family denied that he participated in the protests. Palestinians suspect Mohammed Abu Khdeir was killed by Israeli extremists exacting revenge for the abduction and killings of three Israeli teens in the West Bank last month.
His mother, Suha Khdeir, said Wednesday in Tampa that the last two weeks had been a "nightmare." She wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke.
Friends and family have said Tariq went on a vacation to visit relatives he hadn't seen in about 10 years — not to be part of a conflict. They have described him as a good student who likes basketball, soccer and video games.
Tariq's arrest happened shortly before Israel attacked Gaza to stop Hamas members from launching rockets into its territory. Earlier Wednesday, Israel and Hamas agreed to a five-hour U.N. brokered "humanitarian" pause to their 9-day-long battle, offering the most encouraging sign yet that the fierce fighting could come to an end. Israel's bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 200 Palestinians, including four boys struck on a beach Wednesday by shells fired from a navy ship.