A group of 10 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday introduced "groundbreaking and much overdue legislation" that would attempt to prevent U.S. tax dollars from supporting Israel's abuse of Palestinian children.
The Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act, or H.R. 4391 (pdf), is reportedly the first bill on Palestinian human rights ever to be introduced in Congress, and would "require the Secretary of State to certify that United States funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children, and for other purposes."
In September of 2016, the United States signed a new 10-year deal (pdf) with Israel agreeing to provide $38 billion in military aid. The deal, which encountered significant pushback from pro-Palestinian groups, "constitutes the single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in U.S. history," the State Department said at the time.
Noting that Israel has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the bill points to findings from Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF (pdf), that Palestinian children have been subjected to "chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation" by Israeli authorities, and that the "ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic, and institutionalized throughout the process."
"Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year," according to a report by Defense for Children International - Palestine, which has endorsed the bill. Several other religious groups and human rights organizations have expressed support for the proposed law, including Amnesty International, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR).
"It is about time that Congress begin taking action that puts the microscope on Israel's abusive behavior," said USCPR executive director Yousef Munayyer. "I think that all Americans can agree that they deserve to know how their tax dollars are being used, particularly if there is a clear record of their hard-earned dollars going to support the abuse of children's rights, Munayyer added. "And it is important that Palestinian children and their families know that despite U.S. support for Israel, many Americans including in the halls of Congress, believe Palestinian children deserve a childhood."
"Jewish tradition teaches that each and every single person has inherent dignity and worth and must be treated accordingly," noted Rabbi Joseph Berman, JVP's manager of government affairs. Berman said the measure is "an important step that would align U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinian people with the norms of international law and a belief that both Palestinians and Israelis deserve human rights, equality, and safety."
"This legislation highlights Israel's system of military detention of Palestinian children and ensures that no American assistance to Israel supports human rights violations," said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the bill's lead sponsor. "Peace can only be achieved by respecting human rights, especially the rights of children. Congress must not turn a blind eye [to] the unjust and ongoing mistreatment of Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation."
Nine other Democrats—Reps. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), André Carson (Ind.), John Conyers, Jr. (Mich.), Danny K. Davis (Ill.), Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.), Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Luis V. Gutiérrez (Ill.), Chellie Pingree (Maine), and Mark Pocan (Wis.)—have signed on as co-sponsors.