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American teen killed in West Bank, leaving mosque ‘devastated’ back home

Women console the mother, center, of American teen Tawfic Hafeth Abdel Jabbar before his funeral Saturday, Jan. 20. Abdel Jabbar was killed a day earlier in the West Bank. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)
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A Palestinian American teenager was fatally shot in the head in the West Bank, a family member told The Washington Post on Saturday, leaving his Louisiana mosque stunned and grieving.

Tawfic Hafeth Abdel Jabbar, a 17-year-old who grew up in the New Orleans area, was killed Friday, according to his relative Hakam Al Zabin and the president of his mosque, Nabil Abukhader.

Leaders at Masjid Omar in Harvey, La., spent hours consoling Abdel Jabbar’s shocked former classmates before going to his uncle’s house to process what had happened, Abukhader told The Post.

“Are you sure he died?” Abukhader recounted one student asking. “Are you sure that’s our Tawfic?”

The teen was remembered by a teacher as fun-loving and respectful, with a joyful spirit and a knack for encouraging his classmates.

“He had the most bubbly personality and was a giant teddy bear,” said Ahlam Hamed, who was his 11th-grade chemistry teacher at the mosque’s Muslim Academy Gretna Islamic School. “He always brought a light to class.”

The State Department confirmed that an American civilian had died Friday, though it said that it is still examining the circumstances of the death in the West Bank.

Israeli police said that the incident involved an off-duty law enforcement officer, a soldier and a civilian, and that they were launching a “comprehensive investigation.” The Israeli police media office said in an unsigned statement that gunfire was reported after apparent “rock-throwing activities.”

The Post could not immediately confirm the circumstances of what happened.

Abdel Jabbar had attended high school in the New Orleans area and was a member of Masjid Omar, according to Abukhader. The teenager had switched between public school and the mosque’s academy, where he spent his sophomore and junior years.

Hamed told The Post the teen liked to help out in class, always asked questions and loved to joke. She described him as someone whose spirit motivated those around him.

“It feels like you lost your own kid,” she said. “It’s going to be hard to miss someone like him.”

The community was devastated by the news, mosque president Abukhader told The Post.

He criticized the Biden administration for its support of Israel’s war against Hamas, which the Gaza Health Ministry said has killed nearly 25,000 people there after Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people in an Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

In the West Bank, Israeli forces have intensified raids on Palestinians, destroyed houses and displaced more than 1,200 people, The Post reported last month. About 365 people have been killed in the West Bank since the war began, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry based in Ramallah. Of those killed in the West Bank, 91 have been children, according to the United Nations.

Abukhader called for an end to the fighting “so all these kids — whether they are Arab, Muslim, Israeli, Jewish, Christian — have the chance to have a life, to help society and be good citizens.”

Abdel Jabbar was a second-generation American born in Louisiana, according to Abukhader. He liked to play basketball with his friends on Friday nights, and he enjoyed talking about cars. He was often found hanging out with friends between classes and after school, Hamed said.

He was usually the tallest in class. Before he left for the West Bank, he helped decorate the classroom for Ramadan, hanging up multicolored string lights and banners, Hamed recalled.

He moved to the West Bank in May with his father, mother and siblings for his senior year of high school. His family, Abukhader said, wanted the teen to better connect to his heritage and improve his Arabic language skills.

Abdel Jabbar hoped to return to the United States and attend the University of New Orleans or a community college, maybe to study business management, Abukhader said.

He had planned to visit his hometown this spring to see his former classmates graduate, according to Hamed, his former teacher. He had seen a few friends over the summer during their own visits to the West Bank, but hadn’t seen many others since he’d moved away.

When he left Louisiana, Abdel Jabbar made sure his classmates knew he planned to come back, worried people would forget him.

“No one could forget you,” Hamed recalled replying.

Justine McDaniel, Andrew Jeong and Itay Stern contributed to this report.

Israel-Gaza war

U.S. naval forces launched three additional strikes against Houthi forces in Yemen on Friday morning, targeting anti-ship missiles, according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. In the Gaza Strip, internet and cellphone communications were gradually restored, ending a week-long outage that kept most of the territory’s 2.1 million people cut off, amid a war and humanitarian crisis.

Pakistan launched retaliatory strikes Thursday on militants in Iran, its Foreign Ministry said, as tensions in the Middle East appeared to be spreading.

Oct. 7 attack: Hamas spent more than a year planning its assault on Israel. A Washington Post video analysis shows how Hamas exploited vulnerabilities created by Israel’s reliance on technology at the “Iron Wall,” the security barrier bordering the Gaza Strip, to carry out the deadliest attack in Israel’s history. Stock traders earned millions of dollars anticipating the Hamas attack, a study found.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has a complicated history. Understand what’s behind the Israel-Gaza war and read about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.