Israel is a powerful nation with the most advanced and capable military in the Middle East. It is the single greatest beneficiary of American military assistance, receiving $3.8 billion, some 25 percent of its defense budget, from American taxpayers each year. The security of Israel is obviously important to the United States, with missile defense programs like Iron Dome and David’s Sling as success stories.
But Israel is allowed to spend as much as $800 million a year with little transparency, accountability, or oversight by US officials. Some of this money almost certainly flows to Israel’s abusive military detention of Palestinian children. This detention system must end—and, until it does, Congress must prohibit Israel from using American taxpayer dollars to support it.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has persisted for decades, including 50 years of Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands. To help sustain the occupation, Israel’s military and police forces have arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned thousands of Palestinian children, mostly for throwing stones.
Israel’s military court and detention system is unique in the world in its systematic incarceration of children, in this case Palestinian children. It is a system that denies basic due-process rights and is cruel, inhumane, and degrading.
Children as young as 12 years old are taken from their beds at night by Israeli soldiers and police. They are bound, blindfolded, and taken to detention centers. Under Israeli military law they are denied access to lawyers during interrogation, and even the youngest children are regularly denied access to their parents during interrogations. This happens to around 500 to 700 Palestinian children every year.
Numerous international human-rights organizations and even the State Department have documented the ill treatment, isolation, and dehumanization these children suffer. Children in military detention are subjected to physical and psychological violence, including death threats, the threat of family home demolition, and other extreme forms of child abuse that can only be described as torture.
A 2013 UNICEF report concluded 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 until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.”
The report’s details are chilling. Israeli soldiers and security officials kick, punch, and beat children. They utilize sensory-deprivation techniques. Their ultimate goal is to get signed confessions—usually in Hebrew, a language the children cannot read or understand.
Underscoring the profound injustice of this military-law system, Israeli children are subject to a civilian juvenile-justice system that appropriately respects and protects their rights in accordance with international law. Instead of implementing an equally just and rights-respecting juvenile-justice system for Palestinian children under their control, Israel subjects them to the full punitive force of its military courts.
It should not require tremendous moral courage to stand up for the human rights of children. Sadly, the exception appears to be when those children are Palestinian.
I firmly believe that Palestinian children deserve to be treated with the same humanity, dignity, and human rights as any child anywhere, including children in the United States or Israel.
For Israel, this means honoring its international commitments and ending the widespread and systematic cruel and inhumane treatment of Palestinian children. For the United States, it means prohibiting American funds from being used to support Israel’s abusive military detention of children and requiring the State Department to certify Israel’s compliance.
Israel’s policy of detaining and abusing Palestinian children exacerbates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, generating more animosity instead of bringing us closer to a negotiated peace.
Wherever children are being abused, mistreated, or degraded, responsible adults—and especially elected leaders—have a duty to speak out and work to seek justice. It is even more important to have that frank conversation when the offending country is an ally, as is the case with Israel.
There is simply no reason for a country that prides itself on being a democracy to use its powerful military to target and systematically abuse children under their control.
With 40 percent of the Palestinian population under age 14, peace between Israel and the Palestinians starts with promoting the dignity and the inherent human rights of Palestinian children.
Hopefully, these children will one day be the leaders of a Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel. The alternative is more violence in an endless conflict that suffocates hope and crushes dreams.
Editor’s note: On November 14, Representative McCollum introduced the Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act, HR 4391. The legislation has 17 co-sponsors.