Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced a House bill on Tuesday that seeks to prohibit the U.S. from funding the detention and prosecution of Palestinian children in the Israeli military court system. The legislation is said to be the first time a bill on Palestinian human rights has ever been introduced to Congress.
The 11-page bill comes several weeks after a report was released by Israeli rights groups, with the support of the European Union, which revealed “broad, systemic abuse by Israeli authorities,” against Palestinian teenagers detained in occupied East Jerusalem.
The bill, dubbed the “ “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act,” begins by detailing the provisions laid out by the the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed by both the U.S. and Israel in the 90s (the U.S. signed the treaty, but did not ratify it, while Israel both signed and ratified the treaty into Israeli law).
The treaty required, among other things, that ‘‘no child shall be subject to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” as well as requiring arrests and detentions of minors be used as a last resort and that said detentions should instituted for the shortest period of time possible. It also requires that children have access to fair and speedy trials.
The bill lists other requirements of the convention, and challenges that the Israeli government fails to protect Palestinian children in accordance to its own laws as well as the treaty.
The bill does not request any adjustment or cuts to the amount of money already officially allocated from the U.S. to Israel, instead it requests that none of the funding go toward any of the following practices against children:
- Torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.
- Physical violence, including restraint in stress positions.
- Hooding, sensory deprivation, death threats, or other forms of psychological abuse.
- Incommunicado detention or solitary confinement.
- Administrative detention (detention without charge or trial under “secret evidence”
- Denial of access to parents or legal counsel during interrogations.
- Confessions obtained by force or coercion.
Rights groups, including Defence for Children International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), B’Tselem, HaMoked, as well as the State Department, among many others, have documented practices employed by the State of Israel against children that are in contravention of International Law.
The State Department’s 2016 Annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the Occupied Territories found that ‘‘signed confessions by Palestinian minors, written in Hebrew, a language most could not read, continued to be used as evidence against them in Israeli military courts,” and documented a ‘‘significant increase in detentions of minors’’ in 2016, all of which is detailed in the bill’s text.
Defence of Children International (DCI), one of the main supporters of the bill, released a statement under its “No Way to Treat a Child” Campaign, calling for support of the bill.
“Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that automatically and systematically prosecutes children in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections,” the statement reads, adding that Israel prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts each year.
According to data from Israel’s military courts obtained by Israeli daily Haartez in 2011, 99.74 of all military court hearings end in convictions.
“Despite sustained engagement by UNICEF and repeated calls to end night arrests and ill treatment and torture of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, Israeli authorities have persistently failed to implement practical changes to stop violence against child detainees,” DCI said in its statement. “Reforms undertaken by Israeli military authorities so far have tended to be cosmetic in nature rather than substantively addressing physical violence and torture by Israeli military and police forces.”
Since 2000, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian minors from the occupied West Bank between the ages of 12 and 17 have been subject to arrest, detention, interrogation, and/or imprisonment under the jurisdiction of Israeli military courts, according to DCI.
The bill is expected to put pressure on Israel to change its practices concerning Palestinian minors and bring attention to the matter.
Along with McCollum, who is presenting the legislation, the bill has the backing of nine other Democrats in congress, listed as: Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL).
Human Rights Watch supported the bill, and there are endorsements from 17 different human rights groups, including Amnesty International USA, which endorsed the bill just hours before it was presented.
The full list of endorsers are Amnesty International USA, Churches for Middle East Peace, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, United Methodists for Kairos Response (UMKR), United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ), Mennonite Central Committee, Defence for Children International – Palestine, Center for Constitutional Rights, American Friends Service Committee, CODEPINK, Jewish Voice for Peace, Presbyterian Church (USA), Friends Committee on National Legislation, American Muslims for Palestine, the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and Friends of Sabeel North America.
The Institute for Middle East Understanding released a statement on the bill, pointing out that the legislation comes just a few months after 39 members of Congress showed “unprecedented support” for Palestinian nonviolence activist, Issa Amro, who is currently facing a number of charges against him by the Israeli government. The 39 members of congress sent letters to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging Tillerson to pressure Israel into dropping charges against the activist.
“These developments reflect a significant shift in American public opinion in recent years, away from unconditional support for Israel and towards growing support for Palestinian rights and freedom,” the statement read.