On Tuesday, November 14, Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced the “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.” The eight original co-sponsors included Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. This piece of legislation has attracted international attention—human rights groups such as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker charity, and Amnesty International, have come out in support. They and other groups like UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, and Defense for Children International have been drawing attention to this issue for years, but with little or no response from the US government. Thus, McCollum’s bill represents a unique opportunity for legislators to make what would seem to be an easy choice.
The fundamental question the bill raises is simple: should American tax dollars support the intimidation, detention, and torture of children—some as young as 12-years-old?
According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, each year the Israeli army arrests about 500-700 Palestinian children. Their homes are raided by heavily-armed soldiers in the middle of the night, about 75% experience some form of physical violence. They often are interrogated in military courts alone—without parents or lawyers present—and then asked to sign confessions in Hebrew, a language many of them do not understand. Their victimization by the Israeli regime is laid bare even more when one recognizes that children of Israeli settlers, whose presence in the Occupied Palestine Territories is deemed illegal by international law, are treated as minors under the age of 18, and are tried in a civil court. They face none of the differential treatment to which Palestinian children are subjected.
The bill calls on the US government to certify annually that the aid it gives to the Israeli military is not used to mistreat or imprison Palestinian children. This is really a modest request for us not to fund the denial of basic human rights for children—these rights include due process and to be free from torture and ill-treatment.
The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Children notes the especially vulnerable condition of children: “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection.” The Declaration grants to children all the rights of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and adds, in Principle Ten, something especially relevant to this case: “The child shall be protected from practices which may foster racial, religious and any other form of discrimination.” Instead, what we find in the Israel is systemic and brutal discrimination against Palestinian children.
IMEU noted that “in every annual report on Israel and the occupied territories released since 2007, U.S. authorities have openly acknowledged the prevalence of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children and the denial of fair trials rights in the Israeli military detention system. In 2013, UNICEF released a report titled Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations. The report concluded that ‘ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process.’”
The introduction of this bill comes just a few months after 39 members of Congress showed unprecedented support for Palestinian human rights defender Issa Amro by sending letters to Secretary of State Tillerson urging him to pressure Israel into dropping its trumped up charges against him.
While passage of McCollum’s bill is by no means assured, the introduction of this bill, like the Congressional letters in support of Issa Amro, and like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that was begun by Palestinian civil society groups in 2005, are all part of an effort to expose human rights abuses by the Israeli government and to raise consciousness with regard to the proper rights of the Palestinian people.