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McCollum’s bill on Palestinian children’s rights: Now is the time to act

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Earlier this week, Israeli soldiers dragged 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi out of bed and arrested her. Last week, soldiers had shot her cousin, 14-year-old Mohammad, in the face with a rubber bullet, and Ahed tried to remove two soldiers from her family property after the incident. Mohammad was put in a medically induced coma to dislodge the bullet and reconstruct his jaw. A video of Ahed confronting the soldiers was used as the pretext for her arrest. These children hail from Nabi Saleh, a West Bank village under constant threat by the Israeli army for its weekly protests against land seized for the illegal settlement of Halamish. This is only one of many instances that demonstrate the excessive force used against Palestinian children by Israeli occupation forces.

Now, more than ever, it is urgent for Congress to pass Betty McCollum’s proposed bill, which would prevent the use of US tax dollars for the Israeli military’s detention and mistreatment of Palestinian children.

As an observer at Israeli military courts, I regularly witness harrowing scenes of injustice and a lack of due process. One particular case haunts me – that of Jamil,* a short, skinny 14-year-old, also accused of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, escorted into military court with his ankles shackled. Jamil first appeared before the court during his interrogation, with the military prosecutor requesting an extension. I sat with his father, who was still disoriented from the night their home was raided and his son dragged out of bed and whisked away by Israeli soldiers without warning or reason. Jamil’s father was worried about the young boy’s health, because he was born with a heart murmur. The judge granted the prosecution their request in an incredibly short hearing, and Jamil was taken back to interrogation. Days later, he was brought before the judge again. This time, he was missing two brackets of the braces on his teeth.

“What happened to your braces?” his father whispered furtively to him, since family members are not allowed to interact with the detainee in court.

“I fell,” he responded.

We both immediately knew what Jamil would not say for fear of more brutal consequences later.

While shocking, this treatment and abuse is not unique. Since the beginning of the second Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation in the early 2000s, over 10,000 Palestinian minors have been arrested by the Israeli military and subjected to cruel treatment, interrogation, and imprisonment. Like Jamil, most are arrested on flimsy charges of stone throwing, punishable for up to 20 years. According to Defense for Children International-Palestine and UN OHCHR, 82% of minors experience physical violence at the hands of Israeli soldiers during their arrest and detention, and 97% of children undergo military interrogation without a parent present. On average, children spend 13 days in solitary confinement. During this period of intense isolation and questioning, children are coerced into signing confessions, written in Hebrew, a language most cannot understand or read, and are then indicted on that basis. Considering that the military court has a 99.7% conviction rate, the fastest way for a child to be released from custody is by pleading guilty, even when they are innocent.

Sworn affidavits indicate that nearly all children have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment. They are physically beaten, held in stress positions, and handcuffed for days. They are also psychologically tortured and often endure sensory deprivation and death threats. Palestinian children face these forms of punishment despite the fact that Israel signed and ratified the United Nations Treaty on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which prohibits such violations.

The effects of jail on children are long-lasting. They are “marked” as criminals and heavily surveilled by the Israeli army while under probation, with any minor infraction landing them back in jail without a trial.  This is how Israel creates a society of child prisoners who have missed so much school that many of them drop out rather than fall behind, stunting their potential and a future already thwarted by military occupation. At the time of writing, 280 children are in detention, including one who is under administrative detention, held indefinitely without charge or trial.

Israel is the only country in the world that systematically tries children in military court. At least 700 children are tried every year. It is worth noting that Israeli children illegally living in settlements on Palestinian land are subject to Israeli civil law rather than military law, further indicating the racist and discriminatory use of law for the purpose of criminalizing Palestinians.

Israel is the largest recipient of foreign aid from the United States, having received over $128 billion dollars in assistance, almost all in the form of military aid. In Barack Obama’s last months as president, he finalized a deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that guarantees $38 billion dollars of military aid to Israel for the next ten years. The deal stipulates that military equipment must be purchased from US companies, continuing to make the United States materially and morally complicit in the torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli occupation’s prison system. Moreover, these weapons will be used to kill children, such as 17-year-old Nadim Nuwara, who was shot in the back by live ammunition outside of Ofer Military Prison, or the 504 children killed during Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2014.

The message of McCollum’s bill is simple: As Israel’s largest benefactor, the US must stop funding Israel’s human rights abuses against children.

Congress shouldn’t stop with this bill. Israel uses military law as a weapon to stifle any form of Palestinian resistance against its now 69-year-old military occupation and colonization of Palestinian land. Over 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested since the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and upwards of one million have been arrested since 1948. Political detention is central to entrenched occupation, and Congress must stop funding the instruments of oppression that affect Palestinians. Palestinians of all ages should not be persecuted for maintaining steadfastness on their land, nor should they be targeted for struggling for their freedom.

*Name changed for protection of the child.

Randa Wahbe

Randa Wahbe is a policy analyst at Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, and a doctoral student in anthropology at Harvard University.

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4 Responses

  1. Maghlawatan on December 22, 2017, 4:23 pm

    “Palestinian children face these forms of punishment despite the fact that Israel signed and ratified the United Nations Treaty on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which prohibits such violations.”

    Countries can be graded according to respect for the rule of law. This is very important in the area of commercial contracts and whether or not funds can be retrieved quickly from a country.

    Israel is one of the countries where the law is weak. The thuggery of the occupation has contaminated the wider society.

  2. JWalters on December 22, 2017, 8:29 pm

    Israel’s deliberate terrorizing of children is intended to produce defeated, dispirited adults. It is the reverse of cultivating a child’s positive potential, and just as deliberate.

    This intentional targeting of children, physically and psychologically, reflects a vengeful, tribal mindset from 25 centuries ago. This mindset is expressed frequently by top Israeli officials, including the Minister of “Justice” who calls Palestinian children “snakes”. It is a simple continuation of the policies of slaughter and terror with which Israel began.
    “Terrorism: How the Israeli state was won”

    Members of Congress who vote to protect Israel’s glaring barbarity toward children will have a reckoning on their personal judgement day.

  3. on December 24, 2017, 5:53 pm

    “Israel is the only country in the world that systematically tries children in military court”

    All bought and paid from by the American taxpayers.

  4. JLewisDickerson on December 24, 2017, 10:32 pm

    It’s not just Palestinian children we need to worry about. After all, U.S. police are now trained in Israel.

    BEXAR COUNTY, TEXAS: “Sheriff Ortiz goes to Israel”, by Eva Ruth Moravec | | July 07, 2011

    [EXCERPTS] . . . For one week last month, Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz swapped his cowboy hat for a yarmulke as he visited Israel on an organized trip with other law enforcement leaders.

    “I’ve always had an interest in Israel,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “It was a great conference.”

    Ortiz joined 16 other sheriffs, police chiefs and organization heads, including Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, on a week-long trip, courtesy of the Jewish Institute for National Security’s Law Enforcement Exchange Program.

    The group toured a hospital’s trauma unit, Israeli Arab villages, sites of terrorist attacks, border crossings, police offices and the country’s security fence. Based on the itinerary, most of the sites and speeches focused on terrorism and security.

    Ortiz said he was impressed by Israel Defense Force soldiers, who he said are trained as soldiers and as police officers.

    “If we ever deploy troops along the Texas border, they should have training in being a soldier and in law enforcement,” he said. . .

    . . . The junket was Ortiz’s second organized trip to Israel: last year, Bexar County footed the bill to send him to an international conference on homeland security, he said. . .

    SOURCE –

    BEXAR COUNTY, TEXAS: “Kameron Prescott: Anger as police kill Texas child” | | December 24, 2017

    [EXCERPT] The fatal shooting of a six-year-old boy by police gunfire in the US state of Texas has sparked outrage and renewed the debate over police brutality in the country.

    Kameron Prescott was killed on Thursday in the small town of Schertz in Bexar County, after a stray bullet shot by a sheriff’s deputy pierced through the wall of his mobile home and hit his abdomen.

    A suspected car thief – a 30-year-old woman identified as Amanda Lee Jones – was also killed by police as she tried to break into Prescott’s home.

    Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar described Prescott’s death as “a tragic accident” and said the shooting is under investigation.

    The incident is the latest in a series of deaths at the hands of police officers in the US.

    A total of 952 people have been shot and killed by US police in 2017, according to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database. . .


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