They Decided This Israeli Arab Teenager Was a Terrorist, So They Attacked Him

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Karim Kitawi, who says he was beaten in Jerusalem because he was mistaken for a terrorist, July 2017.
Karim Kitawi, who says he was beaten in Jerusalem because he was mistaken for a terrorist, July 2017.Credit: Emil Salman

An Israeli-Arab teen was assaulted by passersby Wednesday night in Jerusalem because the assailants wrongly identified him as a terrorist, according to the boy and his teenage cousin who was with him at the time.

Karim Kitawi, 14, was on Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem when he was attacked by a security guard working for the Jerusalem light rail, the boys said. They said the security guard did not identify himself as such and began to beat Kitawi without warning. Kitawi tried to flee, but was caught and beaten by passersby.

The Jerusalem municipality, which is in charge of the light rail’s security guards, said the guard asked Kitawi for identification and the teen fled. The municipality said the security guard shielded Kitawi from the passersby, preventing greater injury.

Kitawi is from Bir al-Sika in central Israel, and was visiting his aunt, Dr. Arin Haj-Yahya, a physician with the Clalit health maintenance organization who lives in Jerusalem. He was walking on Jaffa Road at about 7 P.M. with his aunt and two other cousins, age 10 and 15, and another nephew of Haj-Yahya, age 22.

Haj-Yahya entered a clothing store with the older cousin and the 10-year-old, and Kitawi and the 15-year-old waited outside. Kitawi, who does not speak Hebrew, told Haaretz that suddenly a man wearing a black shirt grabbed his shirt, tore it and struck him in the face.

According to Kitawi, he had no idea the man was a security guard, and he ran away in fear. The security guard ran after him shouting “terrorist.” A few passersby tripped him and he fell, he said. People gathered around him and began to hit him.

Kitawi said the security guard grabbed him in a choke hold and struck him, and then picked him up off the ground. Kitawi and his cousin said the security guard pointed a gun at Kitawi’s head. According to the municipality, no weapon was drawn.

At this point, the cousin began shouting for his mother to come out of the store. Haj-Yahya said she heard her son shouting for help, and when she came out, she saw Kitawi running and people chasing him shouting “terrorist.”

Haj-Yahya ran after them shouting that the boy was not a terrorist. She said she saw Kitawi pushed to the ground and was afraid he would be shot, but  does not remember if a weapon was drawn.

She said the security guard demanded that she keep back, adding: “I pushed myself forward and fell on top of the boy and held him so that no one would shoot him. The security guard then grabbed him and began checking him all over and didn’t let him go until the police came.”

A 19-year-old woman who declined to be named said she was on the light rail heading toward the Mahane Yehuda market and was about to get off when she saw a tall boy standing next to a clothing store. When she got off the train she saw the boy running and people chasing him, she said.

A train going in the opposite direction blocked her view; she then saw Kitawi on the ground surrounded by a large group of people, mostly men, some of whom were hitting him.

She then realized that she recognized Haj-Yahya’s two sons, who had been her schoolmates at a bilingual school in Jerusalem. She then saw Haj-Yahya shielding Kitawi, she said.

Another witness, who asked to be identified only as Meital, said that when Haj-Yahya began to protest loudly, the security guard said to other guards, “Look, her ISIS is coming out” and “nothing can be done, that’s the mentality.” Meital said she also heard the police telling the security guard they would have to take his gun and phone.

Haj-Yahya said she and the boys went to the Russian Compound police station to lodge a complaint, and a policewoman arrived to take their complaint only two hours later. Haj-Yahya said she was told that because of the late hour there were not enough detectives on duty and that she and the boys would have to return and file their complaint another day.

The police, however, said that “when they came to the station, the detectives dealt with them within a short time,” and an investigation has been launched.

According to the municipality, a person identifying himself as the owner of a candy store approached the security guard and said he saw “two people” – Kitawi and his cousin – acting suspiciously. The municipality said the security guard approached the teens, showed his ID card and asked them to identify themselves, at which point Kitawi ran away.

According to Kitawi, the security guard did not identify himself. “If he had said he was a security guard, I would have shown him my ID and not run away.”

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