As US President Barack Obama prepares to offer a record-breaking multi-billion-dollar military aid package to Israel, 20 Democratic members of Congress say that he must send a “clear signal” to Palestinian children that their lives are valued.
In a letter initiated by Minnesota congresswoman Betty McCollum and sent to Obama on Monday, the lawmakers urge the president to appoint a special envoy to protect the rights of Palestinian children under Israeli occupation.
They say they have “profound concern” regarding Israel’s ongoing abuse of Palestinian children, especially during their arrest, interrogation and imprisonment, adding that “ignoring the trauma being inflicted on millions of Palestinian children undermines our American values.”
The No Way to Treat a Child campaign – led by Defense for Children International – Palestine and the American Friends Service Committee – says that the letter was the result of grassroots activism as more than 27,000 people “reached out to … lawmakers last month, urging them to take a stand.”
McCollum and some of her colleagues made a similar appeal to Secretary of State John Kerry last year.
The letter cites evidence gathered by human rights organizations that three-quarters of Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces endure some form of physical violence following arrest.
Such organizations include Human Rights Watch and the international child protection group UNICEF.
Lawmakers also condemned Israel’s use of administrative detention – the practice of imprisoning Palestinians indefinitely without charge or trial – against children.
“Such blatant abuses are unacceptable and contrary to US interests and values,” the letter states. “The situation on the ground is rapidly deteriorating and we must act now. At the end of February, there were 440 Palestinian children in Israeli military prisons.”
Among the 20 representatives who signed the letter are nine members of the Congressional Black Caucus: John Conyers of Michigan, Barbara Lee of California, Bobby Rush and Danny Davis of Illinois, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Andre Carson of Indiana, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Henry “Hank” Johnson of Georgia and Yvette Clarke of New York.
While leveling unusually strong criticisms of Israel’s abuses of Palestinian children, the congressional letter affirms support for Israel’s “security” and “US policies which advance Israel’s security.”
Defense for Children International – Palestine reported in February that between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are prosecuted in Israeli military courts each year.
No Way to Treat a Child has produced a video, at the top of this article, as part of their ongoing #700ChildPrisoners campaign which works to expose and challenge Israel’s systematic violence towards Palestinian children.
The No Way to Treat a Child Campaign says it “welcomed the bold move to elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to priority status in US bilateral relations with Israel.”
Brad Parker, staff attorney and international advocacy officer at DCI-Palestine, said in a statement that the members of Congress who signed the letter “recognize that younger Americans increasingly sympathize with Palestinians and responded by calling for justice and equality for Palestinian children.”
“By doing so, the lawmakers are challenging the decades-long US-led ‘peace process’ that has consistently demanded peace without justice,” Parker added.