'It hits home': Palestinian-American family mourn teenager killed in West Bank

Tawfic Abdel Jabbar was shot and killed by an off-duty Israeli police officer, his cousin says

The family of Tawfic Abdel Jabbar mourn at his funeral. The teenager had travelled with his parents from the US to the West Bank to visit their hometown. AFP
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Loved ones describe Tawfic Abdel Jabbar, a 17-year-old Palestinian American killed in the West Bank last week, as respectful and funny.

He was also ambitious and was debating whether to study business or engineering at university following his return to the US, after spending a year in his parents' hometown.

On Friday, Tawfic was shot in the chest and head by an off-duty Israeli police officer and a Jewish settler while on his way to a picnic with friends, his cousin says.

“I wasn't expecting to hear this about my cousin,” Mohammad Abdel Wahhab, 21, who works as a medical assistant, told The National.

“And then it stirred up some anger because of what's been happening. Enough is enough.”

Tawfic, who was born and raised in a suburb of New Orleans, Louisiana, travelled with his parents last year to Al Mazraa Al Sharqiya, north-east of Ramallah.

He was visiting the village where his parents grew up to learn more Arabic and connect to his roots.

“We all thought our village was safe,” said Mr Abdel Wahhab, who spent nearly every night with Tawfic and his older brother at their home in New Orleans.

During a news conference on Monday, White House National Security spokesman John Kirby described Tawfic's killing as “tragic” and called on Israel to hold those responsible to account.

“Our deepest condolences go to the family – at 17 years old, just a teenager,” Mr Kirby told journalists.

“We call on Israel to conduct a full thorough transparent investigation into his killing. And of course, we have every expectation that those that those responsible for it will be held properly accountable.”

Israeli police say they are investigating the incident.

Tawfic's killing comes amid rising settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank – which has only intensified since the Israel-Gaza war erupted last year – as well as killings by Israeli armed forces.

On Sunday, an Israeli human rights organisation published a study that found that almost 94 per cent of cases involving complaints of Jewish settler violence committed against Palestinians are closed by Israeli police without an indictment.

The Palestinian Health Ministry says 369 people, including 95 children, have been killed in the West Bank since Hamas's attack on Israel triggered the war in Gaza, now in its fourth month.

And violence by armed settler groups has led to the displacement of about 15 communities in the occupied West Bank.

Mr Abdel Wahhab said the family are trying to stay strong and patient, but they are resolute in their quest for justice.

“We're just demanding justice. I mean, what's going to be done about this? What's being done? Who's going to be held accountable?”

The killing comes at a time of intense anger among Arab and Muslim Americans over US President Joe Biden administration's response to the war.

Tens of thousands have taken to streets across the country to demand a ceasefire in a war in which more than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed, many of them children.

Muslim and Arab-American groups have also been campaigning against Mr Biden, with communities across the US vowing not to vote for him in the upcoming presidential elections.

The Biden administration says it does not support a ceasefire and it backs Israel's goal of eradicating Hamas.

“We've been proactively protesting for the past months here and for it to come and affect one of your own family members – it just makes it so real,” Mr Abdel Wahhab said.

“It really hits home.”

Updated: January 23, 2024, 8:02 AM