Representative Betty McCollum (Democrat-Minnesota) just introduced bill H.R. 2407 “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act.” The bill would prohibit Israel from using United States military aid in the mistreatment of incarcerated Palestinian children. Each year the Israeli military detains and prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children and teenagers. An estimated 10,000 Palestinian youth from the occupied West Bank have been detained by Israeli forces since 2000.They are prosecuted in military courts where they are denied fundamental legal safeguards. Defense for Children International - Palestine claims that three-quarters of the interned youth are subject to physical violence during arrest of interrogation. A video on their website contains interviews with young people who had been held by Israeli military authorities. The United States currently gives Israel $3.8 billion annually to support its military.
Since 1967, Israel has operated two separate legal systems in the occupied West Bank. Israeli settlers live under a civilian and criminal legal system. Palestinians, including Palestinian children, are subject to military law. According to a 2013 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report, the ill-treatment of children in the Israeli military detention system is “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized throughout the process.” It demanded that “All children in contact with judicial systems should be treated with dignity and respect at all times.”
Israeli Military Order 1651 specifies the main offenses with which Palestinians, including children who are living in areas under full Israeli control, are charged. Prior to 2009, children as young as twelve were prosecuted in adult military courts. Since 2009, Israel prosecutes children between the ages of 12 and 15 in a separate juvenile military court. It is the only juvenile military court in operation in the entire world. However, bail applications and pretrial detention hearings can be heard in the adult military courts. Military juvenile judges come from the same pool as adult military court judges. The maximum penalty for a 12 or13- year old is six months in jail. There are no similar restrictions on the length of incarceration for teens fourteen years old and older. The majority of children prosecuted in military courts are accused of throwing stones. Throwing a stone at a “person or property with the intent to harm the person or property” can bring a ten-year jail sentence. However, if the stone is thrown at a moving vehicle, the penalty can be twenty-years in jail.
The UNICEF report documented that many children are “arrested in the middle of the night, awakened at their homes by heavily armed soldiers . . . Many of the children arrested at home wake up to the frightening sound of soldiers banging loudly on their front door and shouting instructions for the family to leave the house.” Children are the “hand-tied and blindfolded and led to a waiting military vehicle for transfer to an interrogation site.” Once in military vehicles children “suffer from painful restraints or from being forced to lie on the hard floor of the vehicle.” At transition sites they experience “prolonged exposure to the elements and a lack of water, food or toilet facilities.” After arriving at a detention center the children are interrogated without the presence of a family member or a lawyer, in violation of article 37(d) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Without independent observers present, Israeli authorities are able to use a mixture of “intimidation, threats and physical violence” to force children to “confess.” UNICEF found that children were being “threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member.” Some children were then held in “solitary confinement, for a period ranging from two days up to one month before the court hearing as well as after sentencing.”
Jewish Voices for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, DCI - Palestine, and Amnesty International – USA have launched a No Way to Treat a Child letter-writing, petition, and lobbying campaign in support of H.R. 2407. Jewish activists, artists, rabbis, writers and leaders have signed a JVP letter declaring that “Palestinian children, like all children, should never experience military detention and torture. Join them and say clearly: no kids in cages, anywhere. Not in our name, and not with our tax dollars.” Non-Jews are asked to write their Congressional representatives pushing them to support H.R. 2407.
I signed the letter. You can sign the letter here.
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