TAMPA, Fla. — Tariq Khdeir, the teenager who was beaten by Israeli police earlier this month, returned to his family amid cheers at Tampa International Airport late Wednesday.
"It feels so good to be back in Tampa," Tariq said. "I can't wait to go fishing with my friends."
The 15-year-old Palestinian-American student who attends the Universal Academy of Florida High School was in Jerusalem and attended a demonstration for his Arab cousin, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was murdered in retaliation for the deaths of three Israeli teens.
Israeli authorities have arrested six Jewish suspects in connection with Mohammed's death.
Video apparently shows Israeli police brutally beating Tariq, whom they say threw rocks during the rally.
"They came and attacked me, and then I went unconscious," Tariq said.
He denied he did anything wrong and was eventually released from jail and placed on nine days of house arrest.
"I am only 15 and I will never think about freedom in the same way I did two months ago," Tariq told well-wishers. "I want to ask you all to please remember my cousin and the 36 kids that died in Gaza and over the past several days. They have names like mine.
"I hope the violence will stop for their sake. No child, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli, deserves to die."
Hamdi Swalem said that his nephew had been excited to go on the trip to Israeli, which he hadn't visited since he was a child.
"This is his true, first visit back home and look what happened. It's a tragic experience," Swalem said.
Tariq's family had said they would not be relieved until the teen was safely back on U.S. soil. They were increasingly concerned about what they perceived as the public silence of Florida lawmakers Rep. Kathy Castor and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.
"We're very disappointed that they did not come out publicly quickly unequivocally condemn the brutal beating their constituents received at the hands of those Israeli police officers," said Hassan Shibly with the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Florida.
In a released statement, Castor's office said it was assisting the Khdeir family.
"Congresswoman Castor agrees with the U.S. State Department position announced last week expressing dismay at reports that Tariq Khdeir was severely beaten while in police custody, strongly condemning any excessive use of force, and urging a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force."
Despite admitted behind-the-scenes efforts, those connected with the case believe that lawmakers hadn't made a public stance against what the Israeli soldiers are accused of doing to a U.S. citizen.
"As a nation that receives billions of dollars of our foreign aid — I think that it's important that the congressional members who authorize that foreign aid hold our ally accountable and make it clear they will not tolerate one of our citizens being brutally beaten," Shibly said.
As for the family, "we're gonna treat him like a hero — because he is a hero," said Swalem.