ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last Friday, 19 House Democrats urged the State Department to prioritize the rights of detained Palestinian children in dealings with the Israeli government, and to address the issue in its upcoming annual human rights report.
In February 2013, the United Nations Children’s Fund released a detailed report of the Israeli military detention system’s treatment of Palestinian children. It found that an estimated 7,000 children aged 12 to 17 were detained, interrogated, prosecuted and/or imprisoned by the Israeli military justice system. The report notes that many of those children are denied due process and are subjected to demeaning and inhumane detention conditions.
According to the report, the majority of children prosecuted in Israeli military courts are charged with throwing stones, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
“Once a child has been identified, he or she is hand-tied and blindfolded and led to a waiting military vehicle for transfer to an interrogation site,” the report notes. “No child has been accompanied by a lawyer or family member during the interrogation, despite article 37(d) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that: ‘Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the rights to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance.’”
Interrogations often combine “intimidation, threats and physical violence,” and serve the “clear purpose of forcing the child to confess.” These conditions compel most of the children to confess, after which they sign legal documents which are written in Hebrew, a language that the “overwhelming majority of Palestinian children do not understand.”
After the interrogations, children are brought before a military court, during which they are restrained in leg chains and shackles – in violation of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners – and where they generally see their lawyers for the first time. Almost all children plead guilty in order to reduce the length of pre-trial detention, after which they serve time in a prison run by the Israel prison Service, over 60 percent of which are located inside Israel. The report notes that the transfer of Palestinian children to prisons inside Israel violates article 76 of the Geneva Convention, which mandates that “protected persons accused of offenses shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.”
“[Respecting] and defending the human rights of children, regardless of their ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality, is a fundamental American value, as well as a priority for all Americans, that cannot be ignored,” reads the letter sent by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and 18 of her colleagues. “Secretary Kerry, we urge the Department of State to elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority states in our bilateral relationship with the Government of Israel.”
A report released in February 2015 found that Israel had “taken a series of initiatives” to respond to recommendations made in UNICEF’s 2013 report, but had still failed to finalize many of them.
The United States provides $3 billion in the form of military aid to Israel every year, meaning human rights violations perpetrated by the Israeli military have direct moral implications for American taxpayers. Foreign aid, military or otherwise, ought to be distributed on the condition that it must not be used towards the unlawful subjugation and inhumane treatment of impoverished or otherwise vulnerable populations. The failure to acknowledge human rights violations in aid contributions to foreign governments is equivalent to the tacit endorsement of those policies by state donors.
– Zach VeShancey