Ten members of Congress are cosponsoring a bill to bar the US from financially supporting human rights abuses of Palestinian children by the Israeli military. The Promoting Human Rights by Ending Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act, introduced on Tuesday, is the first ever bill to prioritize the human rights of Palestinian children as a condition for US support, according to campaigners.
The legislation would block funds used by Israel to inflict “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.”
It would also target solitary confinement, administrative detention, denial of access to parents or lawyers during interrogations and “confessions obtained by force or coercion.”
“It’s an unprecedented bill,” said Jennifer Bing, an advocate for Palestinian children’s rights who directs the American Friends Service Committee’s Middle East program.
“There’s never been a piece of legislation in Congress that says we need to hold Israel accountable for the aid dollars it receives from US taxpayers,” she told The Electronic Intifada.
Bing said that this is a critical opportunity for constituents to advocate for their representatives to support the bill.
Standing in defense of children’s human rights will help steer the conversation away from the status quo and the dead-end “peace process,” she said, “which has been an excuse to allow the abuse and detention of children to continue.”
By blocking financial complicity in Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinian children, this bill “aligns US policy toward Israel with international law,” added Brad Parker, an attorney with Defense for Children International - Palestine.
The bill sends a clear message to Israeli officials “that widespread ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees must end and is a direct challenge to the systemic impunity enjoyed by Israeli forces” in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Parker told The Electronic Intifada.
The bill draws on the US State Department’s own reports on Israeli abuses. One of those reports noted in 2013 that Israeli occupation forces “continued to abuse, and in some cases torture, minors, frequently arrested on suspicion of stone-throwing, in order to coerce confessions.”
It also highlights similar reports from UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, and points to Human Rights Watch’s documentation of Israel’s “use of chokeholds, beatings and coercive interrogation on children between the ages of 11 and 15 years.”
The bill condemns Israel’s prosecutions of Palestinian children in military courts that lack “basic and fundamental guarantees of due process in violation of international standards.”
And it explicitly highlights Israel’s legal apartheid system, in which military law is imposed on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank while Israeli settlers in the same territory live under civilian laws.
The American Friends Service Committee and Defense for Children International - Palestine lead the No Way to Treat a Child campaign, which aims to end Israel’s military detention and abuse of some 700 children annually.
In June, the campaign hosted a standing-room only Capitol Hill briefing outlining Israel’s violations of Palestinian childrens’ rights.
Human rights organizations have documented such abuses for decades, Bing noted, but grassroots organizing in faith communities, universities and community groups is what encouraged US lawmakers to sign onto this bill.
The No Way to Treat a Child campaign started three years ago with activists and lawyers sharing information with lawmakers and introducing them to Palestinians who had been detained.
“Every time, the reception from members of Congress was that they didn’t know it was happening, or wanted to know what they could to do to make a difference, knowing that no child should be treated this way,” Bing said.
Campaigners worked hard “to build champions in Congress” to speak out on behalf of Palestinian human rights, specifically for children, Bing added.
The congressional bill was brought to the floor by Minnesota representative Betty McCollum, who has broken with the vast majority of her colleagues who refuse to challenge Israeli policy.
In February, McCollum publicly condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies harming Palestinian children in the Israeli military court system.
In June 2015, the Democrat authored a letter, co-signed by 18 other members of Congress, demanding that the Obama adminstration push Israel to end its abuses of Palestinian children.
Two months later, the lawmaker called for sanctions on the Israeli Border Police unit responsible for the cold-blooded killing of Palestinian teenagers Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir on 15 May 2014.
McCollum initiated another push in June 2016 urging Obama to appoint a special envoy to protect the rights of Palestinian children under Israeli occupation.
Along with McCollum, the bill’s cosponsors include the chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – representatives Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin – as well as representatives Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio of Oregon, John Conyers of Michigan, Chellie Pingree of Maine, André Carson of Indiana and Luis Gutierrez and Danny Davis of Illinois.
It is endorsed by 15 national faith-based and human rights organizations, including the Presbyterian Church USA, several Methodist organizations, the Mennonite Central Committee, United Church of Christ, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
Like his predecessor, the current US president remains committed to providing Israel with billions of dollars in aid every year while social services, education funds and climate justice initiatives are slashed.
Last year, the Obama administration signed an agreement to boost US aid to Israel to $3.8 billion annually beginning in 2019.
As the Congressional Research Service notes, “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II.” As of 2016, that aid had totalled $127.4 billion.