For the second time in two months, a member of the US House of Representatives wrote a letter to the US State Department demanding concrete actions against Israel’s systematic violations of the rights of Palestinian children.
Released on 18 August by Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the letter calls for sanctions on the Israeli border police unit responsible for killing Palestinian teenagers Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir on 15 May 2014. The boys were shot at a Nakba Day protest near the Ofer military prison in the occupied West Bank village of Beitunia.
In June, McCollum penned a letter, co-signed by 18 other members of congress, slamming Israel’s “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of Palestinian children” in military detention as “an anomaly in the world” that demands US action.
This second letter goes a step further. By calling for sanctions on the Israeli unit involved in the Nakba Day murders, it marks a daring move in a political space monopolized by Israel lobbying groups.
Condemnation and action
The congresswoman’s letter highlighted the cold-blooded Nakba Day killings as demonstrative of Israel’s “brutal system of occupation that devalues and dehumanizes Palestinian children,” which “merits both condemnation and action by the US.”
“As these killings exemplify, Israel’s treatment of Palestinian youth in the occupied West Bank is unacceptable and must not be tolerated by the US or the international community,” McCollum states. “It is time for a strong and unequivocal statement of US commitment to the human rights for Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation.”
Nadim and Muhammad were gunned down an hour apart. The killings were captured on video, proving that neither teen posed a threat before being shot.
Due to solid evidence and relentless agitation from Nadim’s family for criminal charges, the Israeli soldier who killed Nadim was indicted last October and is currently awaiting trial for manslaughter.
On 6 August, Nadim’s father Siam Nuwara met with state department representatives and members of congress to demand justice for his son.
Citing her meeting with Siam Nuwara, McCollum calls on the State Department to investigate whether the Nakba Day killings violate the Leahy Law, which prohibits the US State Department and Department of Defense from providing military assistance to foreign security forces that commit flagrant human rights violations.
“If a Leahy Law violation occurred,” asserts McCollum, “the 38th Company of the Israeli Border Police should be ineligible to receive future US military aid and training and all border police involved in this incident should be denied US visas as stipulated by the law.”
Shift in tone
Speaking to The Electronic Intifada, Josh Ruebner, policy director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, applauded McCollum’s willingness to challenge the pro-Israel consensus in congress.
“I think that letters like Representative McCollum’s represent a shift both in terms of the tone and the willingness to be public with these positions,” Ruebner said.
Ruebner attributed this shift to changing attitudes towards Israel among the Democratic base.
Public opinion polls demonstrate that Democratic support for Israel — particularly among women, people of color and young people — is trending down. A recent poll showed that nearly half of Democratic elites view Israel as a racist country, with nearly three-quarters agreeing that Israel has too much influence over US policy.
“This phenomenon gives progressive Democrats in congress more of a political backbone to act on what I believe they know has always been the right thing to do,” said Ruebner, adding, “I think we’ll see this trajectory continue in the coming years.”