Betty McCollum’s H.R. 2590 may finally hold Israel accountable

H.R. 2590 is a critical piece of legislation that will hold the government of Israel accountable for the abuse and cruel treatment of Palestinian children by Israeli military forces.

Shockingly, hundreds of Palestinian children are detained each year by Israeli military forces. An estimated 500 to 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 years old are arrested annually. Following their arrest, Palestinian children often suffer abusive and cruel treatment at the hands of Israeli military authorities. Sadly, the reality is that the abuse and human rights violations of Palestinian children after being detained is widespread and systematic within Israel’s military detention system, which consists of army bases, custody and interrogation centers, law enforcement stations and prisons. 

By the time children reach the detention centers for questioning and cross-examination, they are often constrained, blindfolded, scared, and deprived of sleep.  Techniques used by Israeli authorities at the time of questioning are usually emotionally and physically coercive, often combining a mix of force, intimidation, and violence with the intent of causing physical or emotional pain or suffering to obtain confessions from child detainees. Alone and frightened, child detainees often cave in and confess to charges despite their innocence — after being threatened, demoralized, and verbally and physically abused, in certain instances amounting to torture. Children who refuse to confess are punished and face solitary confinement, a punitive technique which interrogators use to compel the child detainee to confess. According to a report by Defense for Children International Palestine: “the physical and social isolation of Palestinian children for interrogation purposes by Israeli authorities is a practice that constitutes solitary confinement, amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under international law norms.”

In addition to the extensive physical and mental abuse children endure within the military detention system, child detainees are also denied legal protections. Palestinians in the West Bank, including children, are subject to Israeli military law. Under military law, detainees are stripped of their basic due process rights and fair trial protections. As a result, child detainees are not allowed to have a lawyer or even an adult present during the time of their interrogation, making them greatly vulnerable to abusive treatment and violations of their legal rights.  Additionally, confessions obtained through abuse and intimidation tactics, including torture, are rarely dismissed by military court judges.  Based on 681 testimonials gathered between 2016 and 2021, DCIP found that of the children detained and tried in military courts, 75% had experienced physical violence, 97% were hand tied, 88% were blindfolded, 59% were detained from their homes in the middle of night, 58% faced verbal abuse, humiliation, and intimidation, 67% were not informed properly of their rights, and 97% were interrogated without the presence of a family member.

It is criminal to see such abuse and inhumane treatment Palestinian children suffer at the hands of military forces. Members of Congress have a moral and legal obligation to ensure that US military assistance to Israel is aligned with our American values of self-determination, freedom and justice; and to make certain US aid and taxpayer dollars are not used to fund human rights violations of Palestinian children and families committed by Israeli military forces.

One bill that seeks to do that is Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s bill H.R. 2590.  H.R. 2590, known as “Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act,” serves to protect and promote the human rights of the Palestinian people; and to ensure US funds are aligned with our American values of justice, freedom. It’s important to first mention that H.R. 2590 does not seek to cut or reduce the overall amount of US security assistance given to Israel each year. Rather, H.R. 2590 provides much-needed certification, end-use restrictions and oversight for how the Israeli government uses the billions of US funds it receives every year, a whopping amount of $3.8 billion annually, to ensure US aid is not used by the Israeli government in violation of human rights and international humanitarian law.

H.R. 2590 specifies three prohibited actions, one of which pertains to the treatment of Palestinian children by Israeli military forces. Specifically, this prohibition requires that no US security assistance approved for appropriation or made available to the Israeli government will be committed for or used to support actions that include “the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill treatment of Palestinian children in violation of international humanitarian law,” or to support the use of a host of practices against Palestinian children. These include the use of torture, restraint in stress positions during interrogation, hooding, solitary confinement, administrative detention without charge or trial, arbitrary detention, and a number of other practices.

H.R. 2590 would impose requirements and conditions on the US that are critically needed to establish accountability and determine whether US funds to Israel should be restricted. These requirements would include things like oversight, annual certification by the US Secretary of State and expanding reporting requirements under the Foreign Assistance Act that would include “a description of the nature and extent of detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill treatment of Palestinian children by Israeli military forces or police in violation of international humanitarian law.”

Given that the yearly certification and oversight requirements would enable the US to carefully monitor and track how Israel ultimately uses US security assistance, this would establish transparency on how US funds are ultimately spent. Additionally, because the reporting requirements would require a report of the nature and degree of the abuse and ill treatment of Palestinian children within Israel’s military detention, this would also establish Israel’s culpability for the treatment of Palestinian children on the record.  Consequently, if the US certifies that US funds to Israel were used for the detention, abuse or ill treatment of Palestinian children, H.R. 2590 would require the US to restrict and limit US military aid to Israel, thereby holding the Israeli government and its military accountable for its cruel treatment of Palestinian children. 

Betty McCollum’s bill is historic. It is the first bill introduced in Congress that would hold Israel accountable for violations of human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank. Conditions that would be established by the bill, which would require end-use restrictions, oversight, and track how Israel ultimately spends US foreign aid, would determine whether the Israeli government and its military used US funds to support the detention, interrogation, abuse, and ill treatment of Palestinian children; and, if confirmed, Israel would be held liable for the abuse and ill treatment of Palestinian children, while the US would be required to limit foreign military aid to Israel.