Moral Low Ground

US Government

Members of Congress Demand End to ‘Cruel, Systemic Abuse’ of Palestinian Children

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN)

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN)

Nineteen sitting members of Congress have co-signed a letter urging the Obama administration to pressure Israel to end its ‘systemic abuse’ of Palestinian children.

In a rare act of defiance of Washington’s staunch ‘pro-Israel, right or wrong’ stance, the 19 House members, all of them Democrats, signed a letter written by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the State Department to make the human rights of Palestinian children, who have known nothing but Israel’s illegal occupation of their homeland since their births, a priority in America’s unilateral relationship with the predominantly Jewish state.

“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,” wrote McCollum. “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 letter called Israeli abuses of Palestinian children “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and “an anomaly in the world.”

“Respecting and defending the human rights of children, regardless of their ethnicity, race, religion or nationality, is a fundamental American value,” the signers reminded Kerry, adding that they “fully expect the State Department to address the status of Israel’s military detention system’s treatment of Palestinian children in its annual human rights report.”

In addition to McCollum, the following 18 House members signed the letter: Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). Ten of the 19 representatives are members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

In March 2013, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a scathing report detailing “widespread, systematic and institutionalized” mistreatment of Palestinian children detained and imprisoned by Israel, abuse described as “cruel and inhuman.”

The 22-page UNICEF report, “Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations,” offers advice on measures Israel can take to ensure that children detained during the ongoing 7-decade occupation of Palestine are treated in accordance with UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a legally binding agreement to which Israel is signatory, the UN Convention Against Torture, and other international standards.

The report found that more than 7,000 Palestinian children between ages 12 and 17 have been arrested, interrogated and prosecuted for resisting Israeli occupation and associated policies and actions over the past decade. An average of two children per day are detained by Israeli forces, usually for throwing rocks at occupation troops. For children aged 12 and 13, the maximum legal term of imprisonment is six months. But for older children, convictions can result in imprisonment for as long as 20 years, according to the report.

“In no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights,” the report states.

The report detailed abuses commonly experienced by Palestinian children detained, imprisoned and interrogated by Israeli forces. Many children are “aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers” before “being forcibly brought to an interrogation center tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear.”

Many children are physically and verbally abused while in transit to Israeli detention centers, with some subjected to painful restraints as well as exposure to the elements and deprivation of food, water and access to toilets. UNICEF found that the Israeli interrogation process “mixes intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess.”

“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” the report states. It also says that many children break under pressure and confess, and are often forced to sign forms in Hebrew that they cannot understand. Children are also held in solitary confinement for periods as long as a month before appearing in court, aform of torture that has been known to drive even adult prisoners insane.

In court, Palestinian children, broken by their experiences in Israeli custody, are judged by evidence consisting primarily of their own confessions, which were “in most cases extracted under duress during interrogation,” the report states.

“Ultimately, almost all children plead guilty in order to reduce the length of their pretrial detention,” the reports states. “Pleading guilty is the quickest way to be released. In short, the system does not allow children to defend themselves.”

Critics of Israeli policies and actions assert that the vast majority of Palestinian children who do engage in stone-throwing and other largely symbolic acts of defiance are only doing what anyone would do if their homeland was occupied by foreign invaders. It is considered almost taboo in Israel to acknowledge the fact that the establishment of the state of Israel was accomplished by the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages, an event that even many Israeli observers call ethnic cleansing, and the military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights since 1967.

This occupation, which is illegal under international law, has been characterized by extreme economic hardship and daily humiliation. Palestinian efforts to resist the occupation are usually met with an escalation of Israeli brutality. Last year, after years of indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas and other Gaza-based militants in which thousands of mostly crude but terrifying projectiles rained down on the Jewish homeland, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, in which entire neighborhoods in Gaza were reduced to rubble and some 1,462 civilians, including 495 children, were killed. Earlier this week, the UN released a report on last year’s Gaza war in which evidence of both Israeli and Palestinian war crimes was presented.

Key Obama administration figures have expressed their frustration with Israel, which despite receiving an average of around $3 billion in annual no-questions-asked military aid has repeatedly and openly defied Washington’s calls to end its illegal settler colonization of occupied Palestinian territory and do more to avoid killing innocent Palestinians. As leading Israeli lawmakers called for genocide against Palestine and the civilian death toll mounted during last year’s Gaza offensive, an exasperated John Kerry was caught on a ‘hot mic’ mocking Israel’s claims that its military forces were bombing densely-populated Gazan neighborhoods with pinpoint accuracy.

But despite those frustrations, and a defiance that would likely never be tolerated without consequences if committed by any other nation, US aid to Israel continues unabated, while leading administration officials including President Obama himself reaffirming that Israel has no better friend in the world than the United States.

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