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New Bill Prohibits US Aid to Israel Being Used to Detain Palestinian Children

Palestinian children protesting in the West Bank. They are all wearing the same white shirt with the inscription : the victims of the occupation demand justice, freedom & peace
Palestinian children protesting in the West Bank. They are all wearing the same white shirt with the inscription : the victims of the occupation demand justice, freedom & peace. (Photo: Justin McIntosh)

“Palestinian children, like all children, should be protected and treasured.”

Veteran Congress member Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act, H.R. 4391, that will prohibit any Washington funding from being used by the Israeli military to detain children. The draft will also ratify the creation of an annual fund worth $19 million to support non-governmental organizations that monitor human rights violations related to children detained by the Israeli military.

McCollum explained Israel’s military juvenile detention system is designed to terrorize and intimidate Palestinian children and their families. Each year, the Israeli military nabs and prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children ages 12 to 17, as Robert Mackey wrote in the Intercept.

“Israel’s system of military juvenile detention is state-sponsored child abuse designed to intimidate and terrorize Palestinian children and their families,” McCollum said in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction.

McCollum’s draft states that Israeli security forces have detained 10,000 children since 2000 and subjected the minors to military court procedures. The Minnesota-based politician added that Israeli security forces have detained children younger than 12 to be interrogated for long hours although Israeli military laws ban the prosecution of underage children.

Furthermore, Human Rights Watch reported that Israeli military detained Palestinian children by using unnecessary force, interrogating them without any family members present and forcing the minors to sign a confession in Hebrew, a language they mostly don’t understand.

In October 2018 Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a military aid package from Washington worth $38 billion, which the Obama administration negotiated. According to the agreement’s provision, as highlighted United States- Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act in 2018, Israel would receive $3.3 billion in foreign military funding and $500 million for cooperation for missile defense.

This is not the first time McCollum has introduced a bill that protects Palestinian children. In 2017 the veteran politician proposed a similar bill, but her effort was unsuccessful as the proposed draft only gained support from 30 cosponsors.

Reactions to McCollum’s Proposed Legislation

Human rights groups, Palestinian Americans and Jewish Americans against Israel’s occupation in Palestine territory welcomed the bill. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the bill is an important initiative.

Humans Rights Watch Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir tweeted a statement from McCollum May 1, “Israel’s system of military juvenile detention is state-sponsored child abuse designed to intimidate and terrorize Palestinian children and their families.”

Shakir went on to tweet, “Congress must not turn a blind eye.”

A Jewish organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, also applauded the bill, saying that Palestinian minors have the same rights as other children throughout the world. “Palestinian children—like all children—should be protected and treasured,” stated Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director of the organization.

A State Department human rights report in 2013 asserted that Israeli security services continue to intimidate and torture Palestinian children.

Defense for Children International Palestine gathered testimony from 739 Palestinian minors detained between 2013 and 2018 in the West Bank. The data showed that 72% of them experienced physical violence, 96% were questioned without being accompanied by their family members, 86% blindfolded, 49% taken from their homes during the night and 20% put in stress positions. Interrogators held more than 120 children for around 13 days before filing or dropping charges.

However, McCollum will not find it easy to turn the legislation into a law because of the Republican majority in the Senate. She has also struggled to gain the full support of Democrats on the bill.

Behind US-Israel Close Ties

The U.S. and Israel have not always had as close a relationship as they do now. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 opposed the Jewish state during the Suez Canal conflict, when Israel, France and the U.K. waged war with Egypt, when it seized the canal, which the U.K. and France controlled for geopolitical reasons.

But the situation changed during the Cold War. Washington saw Israel could help the U.S. contain the Soviet influence in the Middle East. The U.S. and Israel started to form closer relations in 1973 when the former contributed to save the latter from Arab troops in the Yom Kippur War.

Jihadism and terrorism were also allegedly behind the stronger ties between Israel and the U.S. as well as similarities in interests and ideology. A pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has tremendous influence on Congress as Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued in their influential paper, “The Israel Lobby And U.S. Foreign Policy.”

But the power of the pro-Israel lobby group has come under criticism in recent years and may be beginning to lose some of its influence. Despite aggressive lobbying, AIPAC could not cancel the Iran deal signed during the Obama administration in 2015. However, President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact last year.

Recently Congresswoman Ilhan Omar came under heavy criticism for her remarks regarding AIPAC and their ability to heavily influence U.S. foreign policy. While Omar received much criticism for her remarks and accusations of being anti-semitic, she was also loudly supported by people who supported Omar’s claims and/or her right to question the power of a lobbyist group.

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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