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First ever bill on Palestinian human rights introduced to U.S. Congress

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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.

Israeli border police officers detain a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem’s Old City, Monday, July 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

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.

Sheren Khalel

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

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17 Responses

  1. Kay24 on November 14, 2017, 4:02 pm

    I cannot help but feel pessimistic. I somehow cannot see the majority in Congress, who are in the pockets of AIPAC and other pro Israel lobbies, to do what is right, and support this bill.
    These poor children have suffered for too long, in the most inhumane ways, and had this been Israeli children, this bill would have been passed long time ago. It will be interesting to see who has courage to support this.

    • genesto on November 15, 2017, 12:11 pm

      I’d prefer to see the positive in this. Sure, under the present circumstances, the chances are slim to none that the bill will pass – and slim just left the building! However, in the face of increasing power and pressure being exerted by the lobby to eliminate, under threats of fines or imprisonment, any criticism of the Jewish state, I think it’s more than admirable that some members of Congress, at least, are finally addressing Palestinian rights. This follows the rise of the progressive movement among the Democratic Party base that is pushing hard for recognition of Palestinian rights within the Party.

      Sure, we have a long way to go. But, I feel the tide has definitely turned in this country.

  2. joemowrey on November 14, 2017, 6:02 pm

    Notably absent from this list of co-sponsors is Bernie Sanders, the great white-haired hope of faux-progressives. It will be interesting to see his response, if any, to this bill, which of course has zero chance of being passed.

    • Marnie on November 15, 2017, 12:16 am

      Where’s Keith Ellison? Amy Klobuchar? I would hope more people would be on board with this, especially since its a no-brainer about the appropriate treatment of minors FFS. Of course, this is the country that seems to have misplaced its ethics and morality by continuing to elect public officials who are known racists, rapists and pedophiles. Since the united states is quickly becoming a 3rd world dictatorship, I can only hope that europe will take the reins and adjudicate for palestine.

    • Trygve on November 15, 2017, 1:45 pm

      Betty McCollum is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. That’s where this bill has been introduced. Mr. Sanders is a member of the Senate. Senators do not co-sponsor House bills. For those who wish to read the bill, it is H.R. 4391.

    • joemowrey on November 15, 2017, 3:36 pm

      Opps. Bonehead mistake on my part. Sanders is a Senator these days and couldn’t co-sponsor a House bill. Guess I’m living in the past, when he was in the House for 16 years. It will still be interesting to see if he has anything to say about this bill. Of course, it will never make it to the Senate.

      Bully for Betty McCollum. She probably just ended her political career.

  3. JWalters on November 14, 2017, 8:49 pm

    Betty McCollum for President. We need somebody with the plain COURAGE to tackle our big, life and death, war and peace problems.

    • RoHa on November 14, 2017, 10:47 pm

      She’ll be lucky if she lasts until the next election. Someone should tell her to stay out of small planes.

      • Cazador on November 15, 2017, 9:14 am

        Hopefully she’ll also survive travelling in a big plane, being very careful while driving her car, never going out at night without a decent escort, and the same I suppose on daytime…

        I really don’t know how that type of lobby (AIPAC) can’t realize how much harm it is doing to the pacifist, humanist Jews, in the USA and elsewhere, as they risk to be the targets of all kinds of false accusations like land theft, genocide, apartheid… The list might get longer still.

        If the USA stopped being so generous to Israel to the tune of 4 billion $ yearly, maybe, just maybe, AIPAC would not feel/be so generous in buying the support of most politicians in the USA, so the Israeli antisemitic charade could go on and on, and on… It’s important to know that the Arabs are also said to be Semites.

  4. JosephA on November 14, 2017, 10:11 pm

    Little cracks in the façade of Israeli control…

  5. friendofpalestine on November 14, 2017, 10:39 pm

    Respect for Ms McCollum

  6. amigo on November 15, 2017, 8:21 am

    This bill will never reach the floor of the house .

    It won,t get past “The Lobby”.

    • Cazador on November 15, 2017, 10:04 am

      You’re most likely right about not going past the Lobby, senor.

  7. RayJosephCormier on November 15, 2017, 9:44 am

    Seeing this REAL NEWS as significant, this is how I shared the link to this article on my Public Face Book page under What’s on your mind?

    “Just reading this, this morning on the 1st Bill introduced in the US Congress that is concerned with Palestinians, not just Israelis. That’s significant!

    I knew it was like that for a long Time. Imagine FOR YOUR children, if they had to deal with this ALL THEIR LIVES?

    It is a Faux Democracy, defying all Logic and Reason, to have Civil Rights and Protections from government excesses against Jews, and at the SAME TIME, maintain a 50 YEAR BRUTAL MILITARY DICTATORSHIP over Palestinians, having NO CIVIL OR LEGAL RIGHTS.
    Definitely not the way to cultivate Love of the Jews in the hearts of Palestinian Children. With DIRECT EXPERIENCE LIKE THAT ON THEIR OWN, they don’t need their Parents to teach them hatred for the Military Occupier of their Land, not having much to fight back with except for stones against armour clad troops with guns that kill on the spot, with no 2nd chance. That’s in addition to armed settlers never arrested by the IDF when they’re provoking Palestinians only because they can do it!

    “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.”

  8. DaveS on November 15, 2017, 10:53 am

    This is both encouraging and disheartening. It’s always good news to see a “little crack in the facade,” as JosephA puts it, and kudos to McCollum and the House sponsors (Sanders and Klobuchar are senators and this bill was intro’d in the House). However:

    Unless I’m missing something, the bill has an obvious loophole. It doesn’t impose any penalty on Israel for continuing to detain and mistreat, even torture, children. It only requires State Dept certification that the money provided by the US not be used for such activities. All they have to say is that Israel doesn’t use US money for any activities relating to children. It uses only its own money for that. US money goes toward other things, including detention, mistreatment and torture of adults, which is not addressed by the bill. It’s that easy. If the bill had teeth, it would reduce or eliminate any “aid” as long as Israel continues its objectionable practices against minors. In the extremely unlikely event that this bill passes, it could do nothing to stop mistreatment of children and be purely symbolic.

    It will be interesting to see how the bill plays out; who will be brave enough to support it, and who will win the stiff competition for most disgraceful, disingenuous , and dishonest criticism of the bill. I would expect major backlash and pressure to toe the line.

    While I think this bill is extremely unlikely to have any direct effect on the situation it targets, I think its strength lies in its potential for giving Congress members a little much-needed spine, and showing that some of them can survive challenging the stranglehold of the (supposedly non-existent) Israel lobby. In a perfect (or even modestly improved) world, this bill would be seen as a very weak gesture, a baby step, in the right direction. But in the current climate, which actually is significantly improved over 5, 10, 20 years ago, it is a giant leap forward.

  9. amigo on November 15, 2017, 12:05 pm

    Speaking of Israel,s human rights abuses , here is a report of an internal investigation by the Myanmar military.

    “Myanmar’s military issued its most forceful denial yet that security forces committed atrocities during “clearance operations” in the west of the country, saying an internal investigation had absolved them of any wrongdoing in a crisis that has triggered the largest refugee exodus in Asia in decades.”

    Sound familiar. Not only does Israel sell arms to the ethnic cleansers in Myanmar , they school them in propaganda and how to deny their crimes.

    Unfortunately for Myanmar , they do not have the “Antisemitism” card in their pack or the Congress in their pocket.

    • Kay24 on November 16, 2017, 6:22 am

      Of course they will deny it. This reminds me of O.J. Simpson looking for Nicole Simpson’s killer, or Israel investigating the killing of innocent civilians, wounded Palestinians, or their endless attacks on Gaza, by their brutal IDF, and declaring themselves innocent of all crimes, and that they were simply “defending themselves” (from unarmed civilians?).

      Perhaps Myanmar learnt how to do it from the masters of deception themselves, who keeps selling weapons to the killers in the Myanmar military, and most probably training them how to use it.

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