Human rights defenders have strongly criticized a project sponsored by a British Zionist group that is raising money to pay for lawyers for Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel.
The project’s real aim appears to be to undermine genuine Palestine solidarity campaigns, especially those adhering to boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
The “Kids Court in Conflict” project, sponsored by Yachad UK, is aiming to raise about $40,000 to pay for Israeli lawyers for Palestinian children put through Israel’s notorious military court system.
Israel routinely holds Palestinian victims as young as twelve in prolonged solitary confinement where they are tortured and threatened with rape in an effort to extract confessions or to agree to become informers.
Last week, 14-year-old schoolgirl Malak al-Khatib was released from an Israeli prison after serving a two-month sentence for allegedly “throwing stones.” Malak was only one of about 200 Palestinian children currently in occupation prisons.
In another case that exemplifies the horrific travesty that is the Israeli military court, Lina Khattab, an 18-year-old Palestinian university student and accomplished dancer, has been jailed for nearly two months for taking part in protests. Her family have not been allowed to visit her and they have only seen her from afar, shackled hand and foot, when she has been brought to the military court.
Backed by Beinart
Kids Court in Conflict has attracted high-profile support from liberal Zionist activist Peter Beinart.
Beinart is appearing in London next week, with Palestinian political commentator Ahmad Samih Khalidi, at an event to promote the Zionist group sponsoring Kids Court in Conflict.
Kids Court in Conflict, which says it was founded by “young Zionist leaders from across the Jewish community in Britain,” supports sending Palestinian children through Israel’s occupation courts.
“We unhesitatingly believe that Israel should prosecute and punish those that attempt to undermine its security,” the project’s website states. “This campaign is not about preventing guilty people from going to prison, it is about ensuring that all Palestinian children have access to due legal process and supporting the work of Israeli organizations who are working in this field.”
Kids Court in Conflict, therefore, clearly supports Israel imprisoning Palestinian children deemed by Israeli military officers in military courts to be “guilty” of violating military orders whose sole purpose is to sustain Israel’s colonial occupation and settlements that deprive millions of Palestinian children of their basic rights.
Israeli “military courts” can’t be fixed
Unsurprisingly, this approach has been strongly criticized by advocates for Palestinian children’s rights.
“Often in the international community there is this notion that Israeli military courts are ‘broken’ and can be improved,” Brad Parker, international advocacy officer and attorney at Defence for Children International-Palestine, told The Electronic Intifada.
“This mistakenly accepts the premise that Israeli military courts exist to and are interested in administering justice. This is highly problematic in actually addressing the systemic injustice of the occupation,” Parker adds.
Rather, he says, the military court system is not a “justice system,” but more correctly characterized as a tool of prolonged occupation that acts to legitimize control of the Palestinian population, including children.
“The problem with the military courts isn’t ineffective legal representation. The problem is that the military court system continues to exist as a means to implement a prolonged military occupation where control is the primary objective,” Parker explains.
Defence for Children International-Palestine estimates that since the year 2000, around eight thousand Palestinian children have been detained and prosecuted by the Israeli military.
“As long as the occupation exists, the military courts will continue to systematically deny basic rights and use the law to legitimize the occupation. Failing to acknowledge this simply perpetuates injustice for Palestinian children,” Parker adds.
Defence for Children International-Palestine is a partner in “No Way to Treat a Child,” a campaign to end Israel’s military detention of children.
No support from Palestinians
When challenged about the fact that Kids Court in Conflict has no support from Palestinians or legitimate groups defending human rights, one of its activists, Ben Goldstein, a student at the University of Oxford, tweeted that the project works closely with the rights-monitoring group Military Court Watch.
But this attempt to legitimize Kids Court in Conflict through association with another well-known organization is false – and Goldstein later deleted the statement.
“Military Court Watch is not, and has never been, a partner of Yachad,” Salwa Duaibis, co-founder of Military Court Watch, told The Electronic Intifada.
“In November 2014, Military Court Watch provided a briefing to a group of UK Jews on a Yachad organized delegation,” Duaibis explained. “Following the group’s visit to the region the group took it upon themselves to start a campaign. This is not a Military Court Watch campaign. Their project is not a collaboration with us.”
Duaibis stresses that her organization “bases its work on international law and is guided by these principles alone.”
“The military courts are indeed not suitable for anyone,” she adds, “let alone children.”
Kids Court in Conflict, by contrast, in addition to supporting the continued use of military courts – albeit with the provision of Israeli lawyers – makes no mention whatsoever of international law on its website.
Rather, Kids Court in Conflict claims that it “epitomizes the Jewish values set out in the [Israeli] Declaration of Independence.”
Israel’s so-called Declaration of Independence has no legal standing and has never prevented systematic violations of Palestinians’ rights in the name of preserving Israel as a “Jewish state.”
If Kids Court in Conflict isn’t about helping Palestinian children or challenging Israel, what is it for?
The project is part of Yachad’s effort to undermine the BDS movement and to drive a wedge between supporters of full human rights for all Palestinians, on the one hand, and those who only oppose certain Israeli occupation practices that they see as threatening a Jewish demographic majority in present-day Israel, on the other.
A British J Street
Yachad was founded in 2011 as a sort of a British version of J Street, the US Israel lobby group that obscures its opposition to fundamental Palestinian rights and its support for Israeli military attacks on Palestinian civilians behind a softer “liberal Zionist” facade.
Just like its American counterpart, Yachad markets itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace” – which means supporting the so-called “two-state solution” and fiercely opposing Palestinian rights, especially the right of Palestinians expelled or exiled by Israel for not being Jewish to return to their homes.
Its endorsement of ethnic cleansing is swaddled in gentler language. Instead of ending Israel’s racist bar on Palestinian refugees, Yachad calls for “compensation to be granted to Palestinians, as an acknowledgement of the sacrifices made in the creation of two states, which will best guarantee long term survival for both peoples.”
This kind of segregationist language is familiar from the days when defenders of South African apartheid denied racist motivation. Rather, they argued that “separate development” would be the best path for all the “tribes” of South Africa to live in “peace.”
Proud of working with occupation
Determined to prevent Palestinian rights, Yachad declares that it “has been clear from the outset that it does not support BDS of any nature: economic, cultural or academic.”
It even stresses that it opposes the boycott of “Ariel College,” a colonial settlement masquerading as an academic institution, built on land stolen from Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
While purporting to support the rights of Palestinian children, Yachad is also proud to promote and sponsor Israeli officials most responsible for systematic crimes against Palestinians.
“We have brought to the UK a former head of the Shin Bet – Israel’s security service, the former legal advisor to [late former Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon, and number of former generals of the [Israeli army],” the group boasts on its website.
“We work with the Yesha Council, the official body of the settler movement,” it adds.
An effort to undermine BDS
Although superficially critical of Israeli practices, the Kids Court in Conflict project functions as part Israel’s state-directed effort to undermine the Palestine solidarity movement.
The overall strategy to “sabotage” and “attack” this movement was laid out by the Reut Institute in 2010 and quickly adopted by the Israeli government and major pro-Israel Jewish organizations in North America and Europe.
Reut, a think tank with close ties to Israel’s government and intelligence apparatus, considers it critical to drive a wedge between so-called “delegitmizers” – people who support the full menu of Palestinian human and political rights – and critics who are seen as more malleable and likely to support Yachad’s brand of segregationism deceptively marketed as “self-determination” for, and “peace” between, “two peoples.”
Reut calls this tactic “Engage the critics; isolate the delegitimizers.”
Focus on the UK
London is a global “hub” of delegitmization, according to Reut, and key “delegitimizers” include mainstream organizations such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and practically anyone who supports boycott, divestment and sanctions, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, or argues for full equal rights for Palestinians and Israeli Jews.
“Obviously, criticism of Israeli policy, even if harsh or unfair, is legitimate as long as it does not amount to demonization and delegitimization,” Reut asserts. “Often, Israeli government policy fails to differentiate between critics and delegitimizers, and thus, pushes the former into the arms of the latter.”
Instead, Reut recommends, “Israel should engage its critics, while isolating the delegitimizers.”
Yachad has been involved in this effort from the start. In 2011, its founder Hannah Weisfeld attended the “Big Tent for Israel,” a conference of pro-Israel groups that the Reut Institute itself described as “based on Reut’s document on London as a hub of delegitimization.”
The aim of the conference was to bring together all strands of the pro-Israel British Jewish establishment to combat BDS.
Kids Court in Conflict is anti-BDS
The Kids Court in Conflict project fits precisely into the “Engage the critics; isolate the delegitimizers” mold. It appears to criticize and challenge Israeli practices and even to stand with Palestinians, but it does so on very narrow grounds that exclude broader questions about Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.
It seeks to tinker with the apparatus of oppression while doing nothing to challenge it, and thus, at best, offers guilty liberals a way to feel they are doing something, but without supporting anything that threatens Israel’s constitution as a Jewish supremacist state.
Yachad likely hopes that it will pull British Jews – its target audience – away from Palestinian-led activism like BDS and derail their energies into support for a “liberal” Zionist agenda.
It is no surprise, then, that Yachad-sponsored Kids Court in Conflict is openly and militantly opposed to BDS. “All of our campaigners oppose BDS and are involved in fighting it on campus,” the group tweeted.
It also likely aims to rebrand “liberal” Zionism as something with which progressive people who care about human rights can identify.
The effort comes at a critical time for British Zionism. A number of prominent British Jews, including the Harry Potter films actor Miriam Margolyes, recently joined more than seven hundred UK artists pledging to boycott Israel.
“My support for the Palestinian cause is fiercer because I am Jewish and I honor the strengths of that religion and the suffering my people have experienced through the years,” Margolyes explained.
This week a senior official of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the UK’s main Jewish communal and Zionist organization, resigned over a ban on criticizing Israel.
Laurence Brass said he had been “bursting to criticize the Israeli administration” for six years and had “felt constrained not to have been able to speak out on … the treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the discrimination still being suffered by Arab citizens of Israel.”
What Kids Court in Conflict amounts to is a cynical use of Palestinian children to rebrand Israel and market supporters of apartheid as advocates for children’s rights. Don’t fall for it.
- Kids Court in Conflict
- Israeli military court system
- violence against children
- liberal zionism
- Peter Beinart
- Reut Institute
- solitary confinement
- Military Court Watch
- Defence for Children International-Palestine Section
- No Way to Treat a Child
- Malak al-Khatib
- Ahmad Samih Khalidi
- Salwa Duaibis
- J Street
- United Kingdom
- Palestine Solidarity Campaign
- Miriam Margolyes
- Brad Parker