The family of Tawfic Hafeth Abdeljabbar, the Palestinian American teen who was shot and killed in the West Bank last week, feel abandoned by their government.
Abdeljabbar, 17, was out with friends near al-Mazra’a Al Sharqiya village in Ramallah on Friday when Israeli settlers and military forces opened fire on his car, according to Defense for Children International-Palestine, an independent human rights organization specifically focused on child rights. It is still unclear who shot the bullets that killed him.
In Louisiana, Maher Salem, Abdeljabbar’s cousin, woke up Friday morning to condolences in a family WhatsApp chat. He kept scrolling up to see who had died. When he read his cousin’s name, he went into shock.
Relatives mourn 17-year-old American Tawfic Hafeth Abdeljabbar at his funeral in his family’s Palestinian home village in al-Mazra’a Al Sharqiya, West Bank, on Jan. 20. Abdeljabbar was killed Friday by Israeli fire, and police say they have launched an investigation.
“I just lost my mind,” Salem said. “I don’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
Last year marked the deadliest on record for Palestinians in the West Bank. Before Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7, Israeli forces had killed 234 Palestinians, including 124 children, in the West Bank, according to the United Nations — with settlers being responsible for nine of those killings. So far this year, Israeli forces have killed 12 Palestinian children, including Abdeljabbar, in the occupied West Bank, according to documentation collected by DCIP.
Abdeljabbar was born and raised in Gretna, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. He and his family moved to the West Bank to reconnect with their Palestinian roots in the summer of 2023.
Abdeljabbar's mother holds a photo of the teen after he was killed in the West Bank.
“He’s a very bright and humble kid,” Salem said, adding that his cousin was an avid football fan and cheered on his local New Orleans teams.
“Everybody loves him and he loves everybody,” Salem said. “He doesn’t have any grudge against anybody. Nobody whatsoever.”
A State Department spokesperson told reporters on Monday that the U.S. government was “devastated about the killing.”
“We have called for an urgent investigation to determine the circumstance of his death and accountability be met as appropriate as well,” Vedant Patel said.
When reached for comment by HuffPost, the State Department said: “Chief of the Office of Palestinian Affairs George Noll had the opportunity to visit with the family and offer condolences, and will plan to continue to stay in touch with them over the course of this process over this tragic loss. Our embassy in Jerusalem also has been in touch with the family and is providing all appropriate consular services.”
But Salem said no member of Congress, or anyone from the White House, has reached out to the U.S.-based family since Abdeljabbar’s death, and that he believes the government should do more to advocate for Palestinian Americans and their families in the West Bank and Gaza.
“We expect our American government to do more, but they’re not doing anything,” Salem said. “I expect my American government and I expect my president to get up on TV and to tell Israel to stop what you’re doing and go back to the peace talks.”
During Abdeljabbar’s funeral in the West Bank on Saturday, the teen’s father sharply criticized the U.S.’s longstanding support for Israel.
“They are using our tax dollars in the U.S. to support the weapons to kill our own children,” he told The Associated Press.
Salem echoed that concern.
“It’s not a good feeling to know that you as an American citizen and you know where your tax money is going, and it’s being used to go kill your brothers and sisters, whether it’s in the Gaza or the West Bank,” he said.