Israel would be banned from using US aid to detain and torture Palestinian children if a new bill becomes law.
The Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act was brought before the US Congress on Wednesday by Betty McCollum, an elected representative for Minnesota.
The abuse of Palestinian children “is perpetrated not only with intent, but systematically applied to intimidate, control, and create fear amongst families, communities and an entire population,” McCollum stated on Wednesday.
If approved, the new bill, HR 2407, would amend a section of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, known as the Leahy Law, which prohibits the US government from funding foreign armed forces when there is credible information implicating such forces in gross violations of human rights. New provisions would be added, limiting US military aid from being used to abuse, torture, detain and interrogate children in violation of international law.
The legislation would also authorize the release of at least $19 million per year to monitor human rights abuses of Palestinian children and to provide treatment and rehabilitation for child victims of military detention, abuse and torture.
McCollum explained that the act “gives my congressional colleagues a clear choice – support human rights for Palestinian children and their families or support perpetuating the occupation and repression in the name of Israel’s security.”
Israel is the perpetrator
McCollum’s bill references the US State Department’s own acknowledgment of Israel’s systematic abuse of Palestinian children, including solitary confinement, beatings and coerced confessions.
The bill also highlights data compiled by Defense for Children International-Palestine, which found that 73 percent of children detained between 2013 and 2018 “endured physical violence following arrest.”
Israel military law prevents children from having a lawyer present during interrogation. And 96 percent of children did not have a parent accompanying them when interrogated, according to data provided by DCI-Palestine.
“The children this legislation seeks to protect are Palestinians who have lived their entire lives under Israeli military occupation,” McCollum added in her statement.
“The perpetrator of this system of child abuse is the government of Israel and its military, police, and intelligence apparatus occupying the Palestinian West Bank,” she said.
Each year, $3.8 billion is provided to Israel by the US. Such aid “helps to cover the cost of Israeli soldiers arresting, interrogating, and abusing children, some as young as 9 years old, in the name of Israeli security,” said McCollum.
“Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes an estimated 500 to 700 children each year in military courts lacking fundamental fair trial rights,” according to the No Way to Treat a Child campaign, a joint project of the American Friends Service Committee and DCI-Palestine which aims to end Israel’s military detention and abuse of Palestinian children.
Ahed Tamimi, a former child prisoner, said that McCollum and the co-sponsors of the bill “are providing Palestinian kids, and our families, a glimmer of hope that after so many decades of darkness under Israeli occupation, the US may stop funding Israeli apartheid and help us get free.”
Tamimi was sentenced at the age of 16 to eight months in jail for slapping and shoving a fully armed Israeli soldier in a video recorded by her mother in December 2017. She turned 17 in prison.
“I’m just one of the thousands of Palestinian kids who have been subjected to the horrors of Israeli military detention,” Tamimi added.
“Families are being torn apart by Israel because they think they can pressure us to give up our struggle for freedom, justice and equality – but we will never give up on our human rights.”
Human rights advocates praised McCollum’s legislation, which they say signals a major shift in contesting US support for Israeli policies.
Jennifer Bing from the American Friends Service Committee said that the bill is a boost to those who are organizing for Palestinian rights.
“Representative McCollum is a midwestern member of Congress, not necessarily a political radical, but someone who understands fairness and the need to protect children,” Bing told The Electronic Intifada.
“The fact that she is speaking unequivocally in defense of Palestinian children in a political environment in the US that is often hostile to Palestinian rights – and doing this over several years – really gives us hope that policies will change,” Bing added.
“I hope we can mobilize others to follow her lead.”
Last year, Bing wrote that supporters of McCollum’s initial bill to end US support for Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children come from districts where advocates for Palestinian rights have been working tirelessly to inform the public and their elected officials about the impact of US aid to Israel.
Notably, according to a new survey, support for Israel continues to erode among Democrats, including 2020 presidential hopefuls.
“As Israel’s military occupation becomes more entrenched with no end in sight and the human impact of occupation is more and more visible, lawmakers are increasingly willing to challenge US policy toward Israel,” Brad Parker from DCI-Palestine said.
“By prohibiting US financial support of abuses against Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system, HR 2407 aligns US policy toward Israel with existing US law and international law, sending a clear message to Israeli authorities that the systemic impunity enjoyed for so long concerning widespread ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees must end.”