WASHINGTON -- After Tariq Abu Khdeir was brutally beaten by Israeli police last week, the 15-year-old Tampa boy's family thought his congresswoman, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), would step in to offer some help. But Khdeir's cousin, Tamara Essayyad, says when she went to Castor's office in Washington, D.C., she was berated by a staffer and eventually kicked out.
Khdeir's family made several attempts to get in touch with Castor, who was unresponsive for days, Essayyad told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. The teenager, whose beating at the hands of Israeli security forces was captured on camera, has been under house arrest in East Jerusalem since last week.
Watch the interview above.
Khdeir's family asked Essayyad, a Washington-based attorney, to reach out directly to Castor's office. At first, Castor's staff denied that Khdeir was one of their constituents, Essayyad said. After she proved that he was a constituent of theirs, Essayyad said, the office continued to stall. She decided to visit Castor's office on Capitol Hill last Tuesday, hoping she'd have better luck in person.
But she said Clay Phillips, Castor's chief of staff, refused to engage in a discussion. She said he took a copy of the New York Times that Essayyad showed him with her cousin's picture on it, threw it down on a table, and said, "Let me tell you how this is going to go."
"They didn't want to deal with it. They didn't give me any sort of response as to how we could reach out," Essayyad said, adding that Phillips told her there was a process to go through.
"I asked several times, 'Well, how do we tap into that process, because we're losing essential time, and Tariq needs to receive medical treatment. He needs to know that his representative is trying to get him home, and that's not happening,'" Essayyad recalled. "And several times, [Phillips] repeated, 'We're not going to deal with this. We're just not going to talk about this right now.'"
Essayyad went on to say that Castor has yet to condemn the actions of the Israeli police and instead echoed the State Department's position "expressing dismay at reports" of the teenager's beating.
UPDATE: 8:30 p.m. -- Castor spokeswoman Marcia Mejia responded with this statement:
This misrepresentation of events is being used to enflame sentiments at a time when Americans should be working to bridge differences among people.
All who work in Congress, in D.C. or district offices, have had the experience of meeting with someone who is understandably frustrated or angry who wanted immediate responses or results that could not be provided. That does not mean that they were not heard or that their concerns were not taken seriously.
Our office is 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.
Israel’s Justice Ministry announced that it was conducting such an investigation last week, and subsequently that it is leaning toward indicting the police officer responsible for excessive force. However, the investigation as to the entire series of events revolving around the protest has not concluded.
In this volatile time, Congresswoman Castor urges peace among peoples and accountability for those who target innocent youth for vengeful purposes.