A few weeks ago, there was a congressional briefing for H.R. 4391–Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children. You probably didn’t hear about it because it is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate the convoluted politics and human rights violations occurring within our own borders. Over and over, we see comments saying, “This is not who we are. This is not what we do. This is not what Americans stand for.” As much as I would like to believe that, the truth is this is exactly what we have allowed to happen, and even subsidized with our tax dollars, for years.
No Way to Treat a Child, a joint campaign between Defense of Children International-Palestine and American Friends Service Committee states: “Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children each year in military courts lacking fundamental fair trial rights. 3 out of 4 Palestinian children experience physical violence following arrest.” They continue, “Children under 18 years old account for nearly 46 percent of the 4.95 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”
That number is actually higher in Gaza, which has been under military blockade for over 10 years. An entire generation of children have grown up knowing nothing but Israeli military occupation, “where systemic impunity and persistent grave human rights violations are the norm, not the exception.”
Minors are often taken into custody during night arrests, which traumatize not just the child, but the entire family. It is not uncommon that they are blindfolded and they are rarely informed of their rights. After they are taken from their families, pre-trial detention is the norm, they are denied access to lawyers, bail is extremely rare, and, on the infrequent occasions it is issued, it’s usually prohibitively expensive.
Upon the beginning of the trial, detention is usually extended until the end of legal proceedings. Additionally, while detained, these children, who are as young as 12 years old, are subjected to violent treatment such as beatings, denial of food and water, being handcuffed into stress positions for hours on end, and even sexual assault. In the world, Israel stands alone when it prosecutes children in military courts by default.
You may have heard of Ahed Tamimi, a 17-year-old Palestinian girl who was detained by the military for slapping a soldier. You may not have heard that her family has been terrorized by occupation forces for years. You also may not have known that the same day she slapped that soldier, her cousin was shot in the head, close range by a rubber coated bullet. She was only 16 when she was detained but celebrated her 17th birthday awaiting her trial. She was sentenced to eight months imprisonment at her trial. While international outcry may have helped her avoid a harsher sentence, an Israeli settler received only a 6-month sentence after intentionally setting a Palestinian home ablaze, which left now 7-year-old Ahmad Dawabsha an orphan.
Ahed’s story is far from exceptional, with up to 700 children a year being prosecuted in this failed system. Adding to trauma of these experiences is the fact that nearly 2/3 of children detained report being abused while in detention. “In 2013, UNICEF published a report on Palestinian children arrested by Israel, concluding that “the ill treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest to indictment of the child, the conviction and issuing of the verdict.” Recent statistics show that abuse is actually increasing.
16-year-old Fawzi al-Junaidi was taken into custody while he was out buying groceries for his family. He was beaten so badly that his shoulder was broken. He was denied medical treatment for over 18 days. Pictures of his inhumane arrest went viral, a young man blindfolded on the street surrounded by more than 20 armed soldiers. At only 16, he was forced to assume the role of head of household. His mother fighting a terminal illness while his father recovers from a leg injury. This young boy has been forced to grow up at an alarming rate, in an increasingly hostile environment, only to be arrested while trying to take care of his family.
Hassan Tamimi, an 18-year-old, suffers from a serious medical condition that makes him unable to absorb protein. He requires a specialized diet and medicines which were denied to him for nearly 2 months. His crime? He was allegedly throwing stones, a frequent claim which is nearly impossible to prove which also makes it difficult to disprove. After objections from other prisoners, he was finally taken for medical care. Palestinian prisoners have few resources or support within the prison system so they are often working together through non-violent means like as hunger strikes and international awareness for justice. After spending three days in a coma, he awoke to find he had lost nearly all of his eyesight. Despite losing his eyesight as a result of his detention, Hassan is still expected to go on trial for a crime he claims he did not commit.
While things are bad for Palestinian children living in Jerusalem and the West Bank, it is even worse for the children of Gaza. Gaza has nearly 2 million Palestinians living in an area that is about 25 miles long and 5 miles wide and even here, significant portions of this already small area are off limits. It has been under military blockade since 2007. Children constitute 49% of the population of the Gaza Strip and the majority of the children in Gaza show signs of deep psychological stress.
It’s not a surprising statistic because there have been three military assaults on the population of Gaza in 2008, 2012, and 2014. It’s hard to look at my 11-year-old son and know that children his age have already survived three wars, if they were lucky. According to the World Bank, about 42 percent of Palestinians in Gaza suffer from poverty, youth unemployment stands at 58 percent, and some 80 percent rely on international aid, mainly food supply.
Children deserve a future free from military night raids, forced separation from their parents, imprisonment after signing coerced confessions, and prosecution in military courts. Who among us can really say that it is unreasonable for a child to be safe from these experiences? We need to fight for a world where ALL children are protected by fair and just laws.
H.R. 4391 does not change the U.S.’s relationship with Israel at all, except to stop “U.S. assistance to Israel from being used to support the military detention, interrogation, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in violation of international humanitarian law or the use against Palestinian children” It is more important now than ever, that we start holding our representatives accountable for the impunity that they have shown the Israeli government, especially given the systemic nature in which they occur.
According to the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Israel is a state party, the “arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child must be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” It is not unreasonable to ask that a country which receives over $3 billion dollars of funding from the US. each year to follow the law that it already agreed to follow.
“With leaders that seemingly lack a political vision to pave the way for a future with justice and equality, children see only a future with limited prospects where their hopes and dreams are stifled by an Israeli military occupation with no end in sight,” wrote the Defense for Children International – Palestine and American Friends Service Committee in a congressional briefing.
We are allowing an entire generation of children to grow up without hope. Without any prospects for the future except occupation and war. People will say we have to fix our problems here first, that we can’t help everyone, or that it’s not our responsibility. But it costs us nothing to ask that the money we already give to Israel isn’t used to fund this treatment. It’s time to draw the line and say we are no longer going to fund the inhumane treatment of children anywhere.