“If there wasn’t a video of me, I would be in jail and no one would believe what they did to me,” Palestinian American Tariq Abukhdeir, 16, stated during a US congressional briefing in Washington, DC on 2 June.
In July 2014, Abukhdeir was beaten unconscious by Israeli police in Shufat, a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem. The vicious assault was captured on video.
After attacking him, Israeli forces arrested and detained Abukhdeir and five other youths without charge. Police prevented Abukhdeir from receiving medical treatment for five hours. Abukhdeir’s cousin, Muhammad Abu Khudair, 16, was kidnapped and burned alive by Israeli extremists just days before.
“Where are these soldiers now? Are they doing this to another Palestinian child? I want to go back this summer and be with my family and put this behind me,” the teenager told a packed room in the US capitol nearly a year after he was beaten. ”But I know that for me to put this behind me, these soldiers have to be held accountable.”
Abukhdeir’s testimony at the congressional briefing was part of a three-day series of advocacy events in early June organized by Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine), the American Friends Service Committee and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation to raise awareness of Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinian children in military detention. More than 100 people, including staff from 36 congressional offices, attended the briefing.
Brad Parker, attorney and advocacy officer with DCI-Palestine, accompanied Abukhdeir and his family to the congressional briefing along with Jennifer Bing, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Middle East Program in Chicago. The rights groups are part of the No Way to Treat a Child campaign, which includes a broad coalition of groups.
Abukhdeir’s highly visible case helped bring attention to the plight of countless other Palestinian children in Israeli military detention who aren’t afforded access to the US State Department, which helped procure the Florida teen’s release from Israeli detention last summer.
The campaign aims to “target our own members of Congress, raise the issue, make it local and get people involved in demanding respect for Palestinian children’s rights,” Parker said.
Many government staffers were shocked to hear the specifics of Israel’s violations of children’s rights.
“You could see them visibly becoming upset,” Bing said, “as Brad [Parker] in particular was able to share with them the process of what happens during night raids, the kind of interrogations, the impact that it has on families.”
Part of a video series of the briefing is below, featuring Brad Parker, Tariq Abukhdeir and his mother Suha Abukhdeir.
Thousands of children arrested
DCI-Palestine states that “Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts that lack basic and fundamental fair trial guarantees. Since 2000, at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in an Israeli military detention system notorious for the systematic ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children.”
Last summer, more than 550 children were killed during Israel’s 51-day attack on the Gaza Strip.
Yet, as The Electronic Intifada reported this week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon caved in to pressure from Israel and the US and removed the Israeli military from its list of serious violators of children’s rights in an annual report on children in armed conflict.
DCI-Palestine’s Parker said that he sees opportunities for further discussions between Palestinian children’s advocates and Washington policymakers.
“We’re embarking on an incremental approach to engaging on an issue with specific policymakers who aren’t necessarily predisposed to being sympathetic to the issue, or regularly interested in actually pursuing anything related to the issue,” he said.
Following the congressional briefing, Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota wrote a “dear colleague” letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry, calling on him to make the “human rights of Palestinian children a priority in our bilateral relationship with the State of Israel.”
The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has launched an online drive to urge other members of congress to sign McCollum’s letter.
Listen to the interview with Parker and Bing via the media player above.