Israelis view arrests of Palestinian children and teenagers as "an effective tool" for control. Photo by AA Photo. Front image via Alarabia
Calling Israel's widespread military detention and interrogation of Palestinian kids as young as 10 "state-sponsored child abuse," Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) has introduced a bill to ban Israel from using any of the blood-soaked billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars it gets each year to fund "what is clearly a gross human rights violation against children.” McCollum’s law HR 2407, dubbed the Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, would amend the Foreign Assistance Act to prohibit funding for the military detention of children in any country, including the estimated 700 Palestinian children detained, interrogated, beaten, tortured and otherwise entrapped each year in Israel's infamously unjust military court system. The bill would also provide $19 million a year to American, Israeli, and Palestinian non-profits to monitor and fund physical and psychological treatment to those kids as needed. It is now heading to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
A long-time advocate for Palestinian rights, McCollum authored a 2015 letter to Sec. of State John Kerry urging him “to elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority status” in US relations with Israel; a year later, she wrote Obama seeking a special envoy to protect Palestinian youth. After both calls were ignored, she introduced the first-ever bill, H.R.4391, seeking to enshrine Palestinian human rights in law by similarly banning the use of U.S. funds to perpetuate Israeli abuse of Palestinian children. With House Democrats now in power, McCollum's new-and-improved bill is both tougher and broader. It boasts 30 co-sponsors, many of whom had never before spoken up for Palestinian rights; it includes devastating testimony of abuse from human rights groups; it offers evidence that abuse is well-known to U.S. government officials; and it issues a first-ever call for accountability for the carnage wrought by US-funded weapons - a key element in the No Way to Treat a Child campaign of Defense for Children International-Palestine and the American Friends Service Committee, which cites Israel's "dubious distinction" as the only country in the world to systematically abuse children.
Using painstaking testimony by rights groups, the bill documents some of the brutal treatment of Palestinian children under the Occupation thanks to over $3.8 billion of annual U.S. foreign aid. Since 2000, more than 10,000 kids have been victimized by a so-called justice system that affords them virtually no due process and often serves as a state mechanism to punish, control, and terrorize them. A report from Israeli human rights group B’Tselem describes soldiers picking up kids on the street or at home in the middle of the night; they handcuff, blindfold and transport them to an interrogation where they are scared, exhausted, thirsty, hungry and alone, "cut off from the world." Human Rights Watch reports soldiers “often using unnecessary force, including chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation" before making them sign confessions in Hebrew they don't understand. Defense for Children International-Palestine collected 739 affidavits from detained kids: 73% suffered physical violence, 86% were blindfolded, 20% were put into stress positions, 96% were interrogated without a parent present - none had a lawyer as mandated by Israeli law - and many were held in isolation for days before any charges were filed. While Israel's "age of culpability" is 12, some kids are as young as nine.
Announcing her bill, McCollum cited "a growing consensus among the American people that it is time to stand with Palestinians, Americans, Israelis, and people around the world to reject" the racist policies of Netanyahu and Trump. There's still a long way to go, but others likewise see her effort as part of growing political pressure against and eroding support for Israel and its crimes against minors, including increased media coverage and new truth-telling vehicles like the Australian film, "Stone Cold Justice." Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice For Peace unequivocally names the Israeli government, military, police and intelligence services "the perpetrator of this system of child abuse," insisting, “Palestinian children - like all children - should be protected and treasured." For Ahed Tamini, the activist 16-year-old girl who last year was sexually harassed during interrogation and served eight months in jail for slapping a (fully armed) Israeli soldier, that dream of safety is deferred, but still hovers. McCollum and her supporters, she says, “are providing Palestinian kids, and our families, a glimmer of hope (after) so many decades of darkness under Israeli occupation."
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The video report "Obaida" by Matthew Cassel for Defense for Children International-Palestine follows a 15-year-old Palestinian boy's experience of Israeli detention. At one point, he wonders, "Why are we detained when we're young and made to suffer?" Three days after the film was posted on YouTube, he was re-arrested.
Media caught the arrest of a boy, either 9 or 10 years old, arrested at his school because he was "a stone thrower." His teacher tries to block soldiers, protesting, "This is a small child." Reuters photo.
Ameer and Hatem, two brothers 8 and 10 respectively, were arrested last year for allegedly throwing stones at illegal settlers. Family photo.