Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) reintroduced yesterday her historic bill to promote the human rights of Palestinian children who face detention, interrogation, abuse and violence, including torture, and imprisonment by Israel through its separate-and-unequal military court system in the occupied West Bank.
The bill, H.R.2407, is entitled the Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act.
“Israel’s system of military juvenile detention is state-sponsored child abuse designed to intimidate and terrorize Palestinian children and their families,” McCollum said in a strongly-worded statement. “It must be condemned, but it is equally outrageous that US tax dollars in the form of military aid to Israel are permitted to sustain what is clearly a gross human rights violation against children.”
She added: “I strongly believe there is a growing consensus among the American people that the Palestinian people deserve justice, equality, human rights, and the right to self-determination. It is time to stand with Palestinians, Americans, Israelis, and people around the world to reject the destructive, dehumanizing, and anti-peace policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump.”
McCollum is a long-time advocate for the human rights of Palestinian children ensnared in the dragnet of Israel’s military court system. In June 2015, she authored a “Dear Colleague” letter, signed by 19 Democratic Representatives, to Secretary of State John Kerry, calling on him “to elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority status” in US relations with Israel.
One year later she wrote a follow-up letter, signed by 20 Democratic Representatives, to President Barack Obama, urging him to appoint a Special Envoy for Palestinian Youth to collect “vital information necessary to actively promote human rights.”
The Obama administration disregarded McCollum’s recommendation, spurring her to introduce during the previous congressional session the first-ever bill, H.R.4391, to foreground Palestinian human rights and attempt to enshrine them in law. This bold initiative sought to prohibit any funds from being used by Israel to “support the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children,” and required the Department of State either to certify that funds were not used in this manner or report how Israel expended them to ill-treat Palestinian children.
This experiment in legislating for Palestinian rights, championed by No Way to Treat a Child—a joint project of Defense for Children International—Palestine and the American Friends Service Committee—and actively supported by many Palestine solidarity organizations, yielded impressive results. 30 Democratic Representatives cosponsored the bill, including several who previously had not spoken out in support of Palestinian human rights, demonstrating the efficacy of sustained grassroots pressure to move Members of Congress.
Bills that fail to become law die at the end of a congressional session, necessitating their reintroduction in the next Congress.
McCollum’s new-and-improved version of her bill strengthens the case for the urgency of Congress taking action to safeguard the human rights of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. H.R.2407 adds to the findings of the previous bill important quotations from Human Rights Watch, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, and the UN Committee Against Torture to buttress the incontrovertible evidence that Palestinian children are subjected to widespread, institutionalized, and systematic ill-treatment, abuse, and violence, including torture, by Israeli forces.
The bill is also seminal in that it calls out US complicity in Israel’s commission of human rights abuses of Palestinian children, something which the previous version omitted. “The United States provides in excess of $3.8 billion in annual foreign military assistance to the Government of Israel,” the bill notes, “which enables the military detention and abuse of Palestinian children by Israel’s military system of juvenile detention.” This is an exceedingly rare, if not unique, recognition in Congress of the deleterious impact of US taxpayer-funded weapons on Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation.
Hopefully this provision in the bill will provoke a long overdue reevaluation of US military aid to Israel and pave the way for eventual discussion and implementation of sanctions to remedy Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians committed in flagrant violation of current US laws. These ideas are starting to percolate within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) signaling that cutting military aid to Israel should be “on the table” and with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) asserting that “no country, not one, should be able to get aid from the US when they still promote that kind of injustice.”
McCollum’s bill is also noteworthy for how it would change US law if enacted. The bill seeks to amend the “Leahy Law”, an existing provision in the Foreign Assistance Act, which imposes sanctions on units of foreign militaries that commit gross human rights violations. This bill would add to the law a provision that “no funds authorized to be appropriated for assistance to a foreign country may be used to support the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of children in violation of international humanitarian law.” Although the language of this provision is general, its specific applicability to Israel is self-evident as Israel is the only country in the world which routinely detains and tries children in a military court.
The bill is also significant for proposing the authorization of a $19 million annual fund for nongovernmental organizations both to document and make publicly available information regarding Israel’s abuse of Palestinian children, and to provide rehabilitation services to Palestinian children who have suffered from this abuse. This marks the first time that Congress has attempted, in a small but concrete way, to remedy the impact on Palestinians of its military and political support for Israel.
The number of Members of Congress who have spoken out on behalf of Palestinian children’s rights has grown incrementally since McCollum first started advocating on this issue four years ago. With the addition of many progressive first-term Members of Congress, such as Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who pledged to support this legislation on the campaign trail, those numbers should continue to rise.
To encourage your Representative to cosponsor McCollum’s bill and for further resources about it, check out the website of No Way to Treat a Child.