Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation
Madame Speaker, it is my hope that Members of Congress and the American people can stand united in the belief that justice, human dignity, and human rights are values we share and promote. Certainly, when it comes to protecting the rights of children we should be able to find universal agreement that ensuring their safety and well-being is a priority.
Today, I am introducing legislation to protect children from abuse, violence, psychological trauma, and torture. This bill condemns the targeting of children with the intent to intimidate, mistreat, and abuse in a manner designed to leave lifelong scars. This abuse is completely preventable. Unimaginably, it is abuse that is perpetrated not only with intent, but systematically applied to intimidate, control, and create fear amongst families, communities, and an entire population. And, unbelievably, it is in part funded by U.S. taxpayers.
The children this legislation seeks to protect are Palestinian who have lived their entire lives under Israeli military occupation. The perpetrator of this system of child abuse is the Government of Israel and its military, police, and intelligence apparatus occupying the Palestinian West Bank. And, it is U.S. tax dollars provided by Congress, the unregulated $3.8 billion military aid package to Israel, that helps to cover the cost of Israeli soldiers arresting, interrogating, and abusing children, some as young as 9 years old, in the name of Israeli security.
The legislation I am introducing – Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act – is expressly intended to end U.S. support and funding for Israel’s systematic military detention, interrogation, abuse, torture, and prosecution of Palestinian children. This bill not only highlights actions by the Government of Israel that violate international humanitarian law by their treatment of Palestinian children in detention, it affirmatively declares that equality, human rights, and dignity for Palestinians and Israelis are the values the American people expect the U.S. government to advance.
On March 16, 2019, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz ran an in-depth expose detailing the detention and mistreatment of Palestinian boys by Israel’s military. It identifies Omar, a ten-year old boy who “looks small for his age.” Omar was arrested by Israeli soldiers last December as he played in front of his house because “he threw pebbles at birds that were chirping in the trees.” Soldiers saw Omar, caught him, knocked him down, and kicked him. Omar wet his pants. The Haaretz story states, “The 10-year old is one of hundreds of Palestinian children whom Israel arrests every year: the estimates range between 800 and 1,000.”
Why would one of the world’s most advanced and powerful military forces, a nation that possesses nuclear weapons, send soldiers to attack, terrorize, and detain a 10-year old boy? There can be no justifiable explanation.
On April 1, 2019, only weeks ago, CNN reported on armed Israeli soldiers entering a primary school in Hebron to arrest a 9-year old boy and his 7-year old brother. Such a story is simply too extreme a violation of human rights and decency to be rational. Yet, it happened and there is video footage (provided by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem) of the soldiers in the school and the principal and teachers trying to protect the children. Eventually, CNN reports 9-year old Zein was “frog-marched away and taken to an army vehicle.” Neighbors said the boy “was taken off to a nearby military post.”
In a terrifying description, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz tells what happens to the Palestinian children victimized by Israel’s system of occupation and military detention: “They’re seized in the dead of night, blindfolded and cuffed, abused and manipulated to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.”
Since 2000, it is conservatively estimated that more than 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli security forces. The brutality and trauma inflicted on Palestinian children by Israel’s occupation and system of military detention in the West Bank has been extensively documented by credible international human rights monitors, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Israel’s B’Tselem, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Defense of Children/Palestine, and the U.S. Department of State.
Israel’s system of military detention of Palestinian children must be condemned and it must stop. At a minimum, U.S. funding for this state-sponsored child abuse must be explicitly prohibited by law and fully monitored and enforced by the State Department. The detention and ill treatment of Palestinian children is a cruel and intentional tactic of Israel’s military occupation. It is intended to terrorize, inflict fear, and send an unmistakable message that Palestinian lives lack value.
Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act amends a provision of the Foreign Assistance Act known as the “Leahy Law” (22 U.S.C. 2378d) to prohibit funding for the military detention of children in any country, including Israel. The bill explicitly declares that it is the policy of the United States to identify Israel’s system of military detention of Palestinian children as a human rights violation inconsistent with international law and the laws of the U.S.
The bill also establishes “The Human Rights Monitoring and Palestinian Child Victims of Israeli Military Detention Fund.” The bill authorizes $19 million annually for NGO monitoring of human rights abuses associated with Israel’s military detention of children. The Fund also authorizes qualified NGOs to provide physical, psychological, and emotional treatment and support for Palestinian child victims of Israeli military detention, abuse, and torture. Any Palestinian age 21 or younger providing documentation of military detention as a child is eligible for services under this provision.
In 2017, I introduced H.R. 4391, the Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act. My goal was to shine a light on the dehumanizing effects of military occupation and human rights abuses on Palestinian children. The more than thirty colleagues who joined as co-sponsors in the 115th Congress were courageous and fearless promoters of human dignity and the belief that the U.S. has the obligation to protect human rights, not use U.S. tax dollars to help fund the abuse of children.
I strongly believe there is a growing consensus among the American people that the Palestinian people deserve justice, equality, human rights, and the right to self-determination. After more than fifty years of Israeli military occupation and now the promise by Israel’s prime minister to annex Palestinian lands, it is time to stand up for Palestinian rights and stand with Palestinians, Americans, Israelis, and people around the world to reject the destructive, dehumanizing, and anti-peace policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump.
The Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act is a step in that direction. It gives my congressional colleagues a clear choice – support human rights for Palestinian children and their families or support perpetuating the occupation and repression in the name of Israel’s security. For the cause of peace, justice, human dignity, and a better future for Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans, I intend to work tirelessly this Congress to advance this bill.