This week American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) held their annual Virtual Palestine Advocacy Days. At the event, which was carried virtually on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum was presented with a Champion of Palestinian Rights Award for her legislative work. Her acceptance speech is reprinted below:
Thank you. I’m very touched and very honored by the award. Thank you, but I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without your work, your advocacy, and the opportunity to work together. It’s been an honor to be part of Palestinian Advocacy Day. I’ve participated in the past, but this is my first virtual one as it is for all of us today.
I’m very happy to be speaking to advocates across the United States who are participating because you’re all committed to human rights, justice, and equality for the Palestinian people. I want to give a very special thanks to the American Muslims for Palestine for being such a fantastic partner and ally in the work that we do together. Your support for my work in congress gives me the strength to push forward and I want to thank you.
Let me tell you why I’m here today because many of you I have not met, or had the honor to be with. I’m here today because I believe in human rights for all people. I believe in equality and justice for all people. I believe in democracy and the right of self-determination for all people. I believe this for the American people, the people of Palestine, and for people everywhere. Racism, oppression, violence, and systemic abuse is what we witnessed and experienced in Minnesota with the death of George Floyd. That incident exposed on video..explicit cruelty, inhumanity, and systemic. It extinguished a man’s life. It woke an entire nation to the fact that discrimination and persecution was a form of social control and it can often lead to systematic violence. This violence is inflected on individuals and communities. It’s used to exercise control over Black and brown Americans, Native Americans, Muslim-Americans, Latinx Americans, and the poor.
We must together reject this oppressive status wherever we find it, even when we find it here at home. We must together seek solutions to end systematic racism [and] inequalities that result in health disparities, police shootings, concentrated poverty, education disparities, environmental injustice, racial profiling, and [the] religious profiling Muslims-Americans [know well]. When we systematically target a group of Americans, we lose the human potential to make our country and the world better.
So I want to be clear, as we speak to today, we need change at home and we also need to transform U.S. foreign policy to promote our values, not to promote violence. Repression, economic stagnation. Apartheid is a system that the Palestinian people endure as they struggle every day under Israel’s military occupation. An oppression that is sadly supported by U.S. taxpayer’s dollars, our dollars. I believe that the Palestinian people deserve dignity, respect, justice, and freedom. [They also deserve] a future in which their fate is decided by the Palestinians themselves.
So, with the strong support of AMP, dozens of faith-based organizations, human rights groups, and peace groups, I have been able to use my position to introduce two pieces of legislation that you are lobbying on today. I want to thank you for all your hard work and..your perseverance. H.R.2407, Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, was introduced in 2019 again and now we have 24 courageous cosponsors and a lot of other members of congress who have expressed strong interest. This bill prohibits U.S. tax dollars from being used by Israel’s military to detain, interrogate, abuse, or torture Palestinian children. This is a practice that is widespread and, yes, it is documented. Israel’s system of military detention for Palestinian children must be condemned and it must stop.
At a minimum, U.S. funding for Israel’s military’s state-sponsored child abuse must be explicitly prohibited in law and fully monitored by the U.S. State Department. The detention and mistreatment of Palestinian children is cruel and it’s an intentional tactic of military occupation, Israel’s military occupation. Its intention is to terrorize, inflict terror, and send an unmistakable message that Palestinian lives lack value. So why would congress, or any American, ever want to fund the abuse of a child? Well, they would not. So, the bill that we have introduced makes sure that our shared goal and our intentions are very clear. I’ll quote from the bill itself: “It is the policy of the United States to promote human rights for Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation and to declare Israel’s system of military detention of Palestinian children as a practice that results in widespread and systematic human rights abuses amounting to gross violations of human rights inconsistent with international humanitarian law and the laws and values of the United States.”
Can anyone tell us how abusing, beating, and torturing children creates peace, security, and a better future? We know they cannot. I know that I do not want our taxpayer’s dollars funding such a destructive practice. Palestinian children–all children–must be valued, they must be respected, they must be treated with dignity, and they must be allowed to grow up with a future filled with hope and opportunity and freedom. That’s what every parent wants for their newborn when they hold that child in their arms. So, I am so thankful for your work and your advocacy for H.R.2407.
The other bill that I introduced last month was H.R.8050, the Israeli Annexation Non-Recognition Act. This bill simply states: “It is the policy of the United States not to recognize any claim by the Government of Israel of sovereignty over any part of the occupied West Bank including its airspace.” This bill prohibits U.S. funds from being used by Israel to annex Palestinian lands. For years, the Israeli Prime Minister has campaigned on and championed the cause of annexation of Palestinian territory. It has been the centerpiece of his three most recent political campaigns. Here at home it has caused mobilization. As well as mobilizing his voters in Israel, it has mobilized evangelical Christians, far-right Jews, and the entire Republican party. So let me be clear, I reject annexation, I condemn annexation, and I will work to ensure that the United States never supports, defends, or legitimizes Israel’s efforts to illegally annex Palestinian lands.
Now do you think for a minute..that trusting the word of President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu is a good idea? I think it’s a bad idea to trust their words and right now we’ve heard that annexation is off the table, as these peace agreements are being signed as we speak today. With diplomatic relations, today, being established between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Bahrain, President Trump says he’s taken annexation off the table. Well, annexation will continue to be Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goal. [Netanyahu has recently said] annexation is “still on the table” and something he’s “committed to”. There are many documented statements saying, “This might be a temporary pause”, but the longterm goal of annexation is still at the heart of [Netanyahu’s plans.]
Democrats in Congress, we need to send a clear and unambiguous message to Israel (and I would encourage my Republican colleagues to join us): that annexation is against U.S. interests and it will destroy U.S./Israel relationships. So, H.R.8050 is a marker. It is a tool and this tool, this vehicle is a validator for thousands of advocates like yourself. You can use this to lobby and educate other members of congress. This bill, it’s your bill. It belongs to you. It comes with the strong support of cosponsors like Rep. Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Pocan, Omar, Carson, Pingree, and Payne. Others are expressing strong interest in this bill as well.
So as I said in my statement on the congressional record, I want the Palestinian and the Israeli people to have their human rights respected, their rights to self-determination realized, a future with peace and security, equality, and justice. Annexation is antithetical to these goals and it will fuel conflict, injustice, and a system of apartheid. This is an intolerable outcome for Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans.
So friends I cannot emphasize enough, it is people power that will overcome repression, racism, hate, and policies that dehumanize. People power. With the COVID-19 pandemic we are witnessing the systematic disparities in the economy, in healthcare, and education which have rip through our communities, throughout the entire American society. One can only imagine the same ravages tearing through Gaza and the West Bank. We need the United States to be a leader in solving problems, promoting diplomacy, preventing humanitarian disasters, confronting human rights abuses, and promoting justice and equality at home and around the world.
So here’s my pledge to you: I will not quit, I will not give up, and I will not stop working for the lives of children and families in Minnesota, in the United States, and in occupied Palestinian lands and refugee camps around this world. I want to thank you for your commitment to peace, I want to thank you for your commitment to making America a stronger, more just, and democratic society, and I want to thank you for giving me the honor to stand next to you, to improve the lives and the future of the Palestinian people. Thank you for the honor of giving these brief remarks. Thank you for the award that you have given me today. I accept it on behalf of all those who stand up to support human rights for children.