In rare defiance of the stifling pro-Israel consensus in the US capital, members of Congress are calling on the Obama administration to push Israel to end its systematic abuses of Palestinian children.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum released a letter on Tuesday co-signed by 18 other members of the House of Representatives urging Secretary of State John Kerry to “prioritize the human rights of Palestinian children living in the Occupied West Bank in the bilateral relationship with the Government of Israel.”
A press release from the Minnesota Democrat’s office says the letter “specifically addresses Israel’s ongoing military detention of Palestinian children in which they are arrested, interrogated, held incommunicado, and frequently physically abused.”
“Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children is an indefensible abuse of human rights. I hope this letter results in State Department pressure on the Government of Israel to end this systemic abuse immediately,” McCollum states.
“Palestinian children should be treated exactly the same as Israeli or American children, without the fear that one day soldiers will arrest them, beat them, and lock them away in prison,” the lawmaker adds.
The letter calls these abuses “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” It states that Israel’s military detention system targeting children is an “anomaly in the world,” noting that no other country systematically subjects children to trials by military tribunals.
The letter cites the 2013 report by UN children’s rights agency UNICEF, titled “Children in Israeli Military Detention,” which highlights that “more than 7,000 Palestinian children ages 12 to 17 have been subject to military detention and abuse that violates international human rights standards.”
Underlining that the US gives Israel more than $3 billion annually, the lawmakers’ letter asserts that “respecting and defending the human rights of children, regardless of their ethnicity, race, religion or nationality, is a fundamental American value.”
A copy of the letter is below.
The courageous – given the intensely anti-Palestinian climate in Washington – initiative came about in part as a result of advocacy on Capitol Hill by children’s rights defenders.
Earlier this month, Jennifer Bing of the American Friends Service Committee and Brad Parker, an attorney withDefense for Children International–Palestine, spoke to The Electronic Intifada Podcast about the No Way to Treat A Child Campaign.
The campaign culminated in a three-day series of advocacy events at the US Capitol earlier this month to raise awareness of Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinian children in military detention.
More than 100 people, including staff from 36 congressional offices, attended the briefing.
The events featured testimony by Tariq Abukhdeir, the Palestinian American teenager beaten unconscious and then jailed by Israeli occupation forces during a family visit to Jerusalem last summer.
The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which also participated in organizing the briefings, had urged supporters to ask their elected representatives to sign on to McCollum’s letter.
The letter is a positive sign that advocacy – even in a Congress so dominated by Israel lobby groups such asAIPAC – can produce positive results.
Obstruction of justice
But the letter is not likely to be welcomed either at the White House or the State Department.
Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have exerted immense efforts throughout their terms to obstruct any form of accountability for Israeli human rights violations.
The letter was released just a day after the UN Human Rights Council issued its independent report into Israel’s attack on Gaza and its violent crackdown in the West Bank last summer, finding evidence of numerous war crimes during the assault that devastated Gaza and killed more than 2,200 Palestinians.
The Obama administration had implacably opposed the investigation from the start and has vowed to prevent any action based on the report’s findings by the UN Security Council.
The letter also comes just two weeks after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon caved in to Israeli and Obama administration pressure and removed the Israeli army from a UN list of serious abusers of children.
Ten of the 18 signatories are members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The 18 members co-signing the McCollum letter – all Democrats – are: Danny Davis (Illinois), Andre Carson (Indiana), Chellie Pingree (Maine), Peter DeFazio (Oregon), John Conyers (Michigan), Eleanor Holmes Norton (District of Columbia), Barbara Lee (California), Raul Grijalva (Arizona), Anna Eshoo (California), Earl Blumenauer (Oregon), Jim McDermott (Washington), Keith Ellison (Minnesota), Bobby Rush (Illinois), Maxine Waters (California), Don Beyer (Virginia), Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), Jim McGovern (Massachusetts) and Hank Johnson (Georgia).