Palestinians make special efforts to bring attention to their own who are suffering restriction in Israeli jails. April 17 marks the Palestinian Prisoner’s Day and this year, it was announced that 6,500 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails, 350 children among them.
International humanitarian law and various international conventions made it illegal to hold children against their will, and introduced very detailed regulations on how to deal with children in times of violent conflict. Since 2000, an estimated number of 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained and held by Israel and have been prosecuted in various military courts. Many are held inside the internationally recognised borders of Israel, which is a violation of the IV Geneva Convention that forbids Israel, as an occupying power, from transferring individuals to its prisons, regardless of the motive.
Various international human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Defence for Children International, Palestinian organisations, such as Al Haq, and Israeli groups, such as B’Tselem, have all published documented proof that Israel, especially its military branch, are mistreating Palestinian children. They are subject to abuse and in some cases torture, both physical and psychological. As was made clear in videos of the interrogation of Palestinian child Ahed Tamimi, Israel does not hide the fact that it conducts aggressive interrogation of children without the presence of any family or legal support. Children between 11 and 15 have been subject to chokeholds and beatings, as has been documented by videos and press reports. The United Nations Children’s Fund has found that Palestinian children are frequently held for extended periods, without access to either their parents or attorneys.
An important change has taken place in the US Congress when Congresswoman Betty McCollum introduced a legislation, (Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act, H.R. 4391), to prevent United States tax dollars from supporting the Israeli military’s ongoing detention and mistreatment of Palestinian children. The bill has already been co-sponsored by twenty members of the House of Representatives.
A press release quoted Congresswoman McCollum as saying that “this legislation highlights Israel’s system of military detention of Palestinian children and ensures that no American assistance to Israel supports human rights violations”.
The US parliamentarian added that “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.”
The Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act requires that the secretary of state certify that American funds do not support Israel’s military detention, interrogation, abuse or ill-treatment of Palestinian children. Given that the Israeli government receives billions of dollars in assistance from the United States, Congress must work to ensure that American taxpayer dollars never support the Israeli military’s detention or abuse of Palestinian children.
In the US, the legislation has been endorsed by the American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty International USA, Centre for Constitutional Rights, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Defence for Children International — Palestine, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Global Ministries of the Christian Church and United Church of Christ, Jewish Voice for Peace, Mennonite Central Committee, Presbyterian Church (USA), the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, United Methodists for Kairos Response and United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.
In explaining its position, CMEP issued a statement strongly endorsing McCollum's legislation. “In order for the US to play a constructive role in bringing about a comprehensive and sustainable end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we must ensure we are not supporting the continued trauma inflicted on Palestinian youth entangled in the Israeli Military Detention system,” CMEP said in a statement.
The legislation has received support from the wider faith community in the US.
"Jewish tradition teaches that each and every single person has inherent dignity and worth and must be treated accordingly. This legislation recognises and acts upon the inherent dignity and worth of Palestinian children and sends the message that the United States is committed to a future with freedom, safety and equality for both Palestinians and Israelis,” Jewish Voices for Peace said in a statement.
It might be a long time before this bill is approved by the pro-Israeli Congress or signed by the even more pro-Israel White House, but the issue of Palestinian children must not be allowed to be ignored.
The international community, which has spearheaded numerous conventions and agreements specifically aimed at defending and protecting children from the abuse of adults — whether local or foreign governments — cannot sit idly by as this violation continues without any reaction or follow up.