Ten Democratic members of Congress introduced legislation Tuesday that would prohibit U.S. military and financial aid to Israel from being used to detain Palestinian children in the West Bank. The bill does not have a high chance of becoming law, but its very introduction is a sign of Israel’s political challenges in the Democratic Party, where criticism is growing over the situation in the occupied West Bank.
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The legislation would “require the Secretary of State to certify that United States funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” Its sponsors state that “the Israeli military detains around 500 to 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 each year, and prosecutes them before a military court system that lacks basic and fundamental guarantees of due process, in violation of international standards.”
They add that while “children under the age of 12 cannot be prosecuted in Israeli military courts,” the Israeli military has in the past detained children under that age for interrogations lasting hours. The sponsors rely on information from Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, as well as on the State Department’s annual human rights report.
They note that the State Department’s 2016 report mentioned “a significant increase in detentions of minors” and accused the Israeli authorities of having Palestinian minors sign confessions written in Hebrew, which most of them could not read.
The legislation was proposed by Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota, who in 2015 wrote a letter asking the previous secretary of state, John Kerry, to take action on the detention of Palestinian minors.
“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 wrote.
A number of members of Congress who signed that letter in 2015 have now joined as co-sponsors to McCollum’s legislation. They include House Democrats Earl Blumenauer (Oregon), Peter DeFazio (Oregon), Danny Davis (Illinois), John Conyers (Michigan) and Raul Grijalva (Arizona).
The fact that the legislation drew support from 10 Democrats overall, before being formally introduced in the House, is seen as a sign of success for pro-Palestinian activists in the United States, even if the legislation does not pass in the end.