New House Bill Would Bar Israel From Using U.S. Military Aid to Detain Palestinian Children

Rep. Betty McCollum's bill seeks to ban Israel from using U.S. funds to detain, interrogate, or torture Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli border policemen arrest a young Palestinian during clashes following a protest to killed a Palestinian militant Basil al-Araj by Israeli forces early Monday, in front of the Israeli Ofer prison, near the West Bank city of Ramallah,, Tuesday, March 7, 2017.(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)??
Israeli officers arrested a Palestinian boy during a 2017 protest outside an Israeli military prison in the occupied West Bank. Photo: Majdi Mohammed/AP

New legislation proposed by Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, would ban Israel from using any of the billions of dollars in military assistance it receives from the United States every year to pay for the detention, interrogation, or torture of Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank.

Israel’s military typically arrests and prosecutes 500 to 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 each year, subjecting them to coercive interrogation, physical violence, and trials in military courts that lack basic guarantees of due process.

McCollum’s bill, HR 2407, would amend the Foreign Assistance Act to prohibit funding for the military detention of children in any country, including Israel. The proposed law would also provide $19 million a year to American, Israeli, and Palestinian nongovernmental organizations to monitor the treatment of children detained by Israel’s army and offer physical and psychological treatment.

“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 on Wednesday. “It must be condemned, but it is equally outrageous that U.S. tax dollars in the form of military aid to Israel are permitted to sustain what is clearly a gross human rights violation against children.”

In dry legislative language, the factual findings section of the bill paints a devastating picture of injustice sponsored by American taxpayers:

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, there are two separate legal systems, with Israeli military law imposed on Palestinians and Israeli civilian law applied to Israeli settlers. Approximately 2,900,000 Palestinians live in the West Bank, of which around 45 percent are children under the age of 18, who have lived their entire lives under Israeli military occupation.

Since 2000, more than 10,000 Palestinian children have been subject to the Israeli military court system. Israeli security forces detain children under the age of 12 for interrogation for extended periods of time even though prosecution of children under 12 is prohibited by Israeli military law.

The bill notes that Human Rights Watch reported in 2018 that Israel’s security forces detained Palestinian children “often using unnecessary force, questioned them without a family member present, and made them sign confessions in Hebrew, which most did not understand.” Such detentions, the same group discovered in 2015, “included the use of chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation on children between the ages of 11 and 15 years.”

“Obaida,” a video report by Matthew Cassel for Defense for Children International Palestine, explores a 15-year-old Palestinian boy’s experience of Israeli military detention. Three days after the film was posted on YouTube last week, the boy was arrested again.

McCollum’s bill also cites a 2018 report from B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organization, which described the bleak reality in detail. “Every year, hundreds of Palestinian minors undergo the same scenario,” B’Tselem reported. “Israeli security forces pick them up on the street or at home in the middle of the night, then handcuff and blindfold them and transport them to interrogation, often subjecting them to violence en route. Exhausted and scared – some having spent a long time in transit, some having been roused from sleep, some having had nothing to eat or drink for hours – the minors are then interrogated. They are completely alone in there, cut off from the world, without any adult they know and trust by their side, and without having been given a chance to consult with a lawyer before the interrogation. The interrogation itself often involves threats, yelling, verbal abuse and sometimes physical violence. Its sole purpose is to get the minors to confess or provide information about others.”

As the text of McCollum’s bill explains, these abuses are well-known to the United States government. The findings section of the bill notes that the State Department’s 2013 human rights report pointed to evidence “that Israeli security services continued to abuse, and in some cases torture minors, frequently arrested on suspicion of stone-throwing, in order to coerce confessions. The torture tactics used included threats, intimidation, long-term handcuffing, beatings, and solitary confinement.”

Researchers working for another NGO, Defense for Children International Palestine, collected affidavits from 739 Palestinian children who were detained in the West Bank between 2013 and 2018. DCIP found that 73 percent of the children had endured physical violence, 86 percent were blindfolded, 96 percent were interrogated without having a parent or family member present, 20 percent were subjected to stress positions by interrogators, and 49 percent were detained from their homes in the middle of the night. More than 120 of the children had been held in isolation for interrogation purposes for an average of 13 days before any charges were filed.

“As Israel’s military occupation becomes more entrenched with no end in sight and the human impact of occupation is more and more visible, lawmakers are increasingly willing to challenge U.S. policy toward Israel,” Brad Parker, a senior adviser for policy and advocacy at DCIP, told The Intercept. “By prohibiting U.S. financial support of abuses against Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system, this bill aligns U.S. policy toward Israel with existing U.S. law and international law, sending a clear message to Israeli authorities that the systemic impunity enjoyed for so long concerning widespread ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees must end.”

In 2017, McCollum, with 30 Democratic co-sponsors from what was then the House minority, introduced similar legislation to prohibit “U.S. assistance to Israel from being used to support the military detention, interrogation, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.”

With Democrats now in the majority, her revised bill was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Tuesday.

“Peace can only be achieved by respecting human rights, especially the rights of children,” McCollum said on Wednesday. “Congress must not turn a blind eye to the unjust and ongoing mistreatment of Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation.”

Update: Thursday, May 2, 7:34 a.m.

McCollum’s bill was welcomed by Human Rights Watch, as well as Palestinian-Americans and American Jews who oppose Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank, which denies basic civil rights to nearly 3 million people living under Israeli military rule.

“Progressive values demand freedom, justice, and equality for all people and across all issues, and we commend Rep. McCollum for putting hers into practice,” Yousef Munayyer, director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said in a statement. “For too long, Congress has given Israel a blank check even as it has entrenched its brutal military occupation and escalated human rights abuses against the Palestinian people. H.R. 2407 is an important step toward demanding accountability and sending a stern message that the American people do not want their tax dollars being used to deprive Palestinian children of their rights and childhoods.”

“Palestinian children – like all children – should be protected and treasured,” Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace said. “It is unconscionable that U.S. military aid to Israel is enabling the Israeli military’s systematic abuse of Palestinian children; beatings, solitary confinement, and arbitrary detention are no way to treat a child. By prohibiting U.S. aid from funding these human rights violations, Rep. McCollum’s legislation recognizes that change will only happen when Congress demands real accountability.”

Join The Conversation