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McCollum Leads 20 Members of Congress Urging President Obama to Create Special Envoy for Palestinian Youth

June 20, 2016
Press Release

Twenty Members of Congress, led by U.S. Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN), wrote to President Obama today urging him to appoint a “Special Envoy for Palestinian Youth,” to engage diplomatically with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and human rights groups in the region to address serious human rights abuses against Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation. (The full text of the letter is below; the signed letter and an accompanying fact sheet are attached.)

Forty-six percent of the 4.68 million Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are under the age of 18. This enormous youth cohort represents another generation of Palestinian children growing up under Israeli military occupation with very few opportunities to improve their lives.

“[Palestinian] children live under the constant fear of arrest, detention, and violence at the hand of the Israeli military, as well as the threat of recruitment or conscription into armed groups,”the lawmakers wrote. “We view this as an unimaginably difficult and at time hopeless environment for children that only fuels the conflict.”

The letter recommends that the Special Envoy work closely with Palestinian and Israeli officials, including security and military leaders, Palestinian youth, human rights and legal experts, and NGOs to seek solutions to the intolerable situation experienced by Palestinian youth.

In Special Envoy proposal is a response to specific concerns about the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment of Palestinian children while in the Israeli military detention system.  An estimated 7,000 Palestinian children, ages 12 to 17, were subjected to arrest, detention, interrogation and/or imprisonment by Israeli army, police, and security agents in the past decade, according to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report.

“The American people expect that all children, including Palestinian children, are treated with dignity and have their human rights respected,” Representative McCollum said. “If the United States is to play a role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we must end human rights abuses against Palestinian children. Peace will only be possible in the Middle East if we build a brighter future for Palestinian youth.”

“Not only is the mass detention of Palestinian children unwarranted, it is also shameful,” Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) said. “The number of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces has more than doubled since October 2015 and in some cases they are treated in ways that aren’t even suitable for adults. By requesting a Special Envoy, we hope to stem the tide of human rights abuses against Palestinian children.”

"I am pleased to join Congresswoman McCollum and other Democratic Members of Congress to urge President Obama to appoint a Special Envoy on Palestinian Children,” Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI) said. “I recently visited the West Bank and saw what life is like for Palestinian children living under military occupation. Nearly 2 million Palestinian youth are growing up under occupation with severely limited opportunities. I believe this Special Envoy will help the Administration and policy makers hear directly from the Palestinian youth so they can be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

In addition to Representatives Johnson and Pocan, Representatives Donald Beyer, Earl Blumenauer, Andre Carson, Yvette Clarke, John Conyers, Danny K. Davis, Peter DeFazio, Keith Ellison, Sam Farr, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, Hank Johnson, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Marcy Kaptur, Barbara Lee, Jim McDermott, Chellie Pingree, and Bobby Rush joined Representative McCollum on the letter.