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How to talk to your representative about Palestinian child detention

News & Commentary  |  By Jennifer Bing, Jun 29, 2018

At a packed Congressional briefing in June 2018, Jehad Abusalim discussed the impacts of Palestinian child detention. 

Photo: AFSC / Carl Roose

For the past three years, AFSC has partnered with Defense for Children International-Palestine on a campaign to challenge Israel’s prolonged military occupation of Palestinians by exposing the widespread and systematic ill treatment of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces. 

Our campaign, “Israeli Military Detention: No Way to Treat a Child,” engages policymakers in Washington, D.C. by hosting Congressional briefings, delivering petitions, and mobilizing people across the country in advocacy through public events, videos, and other resources. Earlier this week, we held our third standing room-only Congressional briefing on the rights of Palestinian children.

We're seeing an impact. 

In November 2017, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum and nine co-sponsors introduced the first-ever bill to address Palestinian human rights in the U.S. Congress. "Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act" (HR 4391) seeks to ensure that U.S. taxpayer funds are not being used to support grave human rights violations against Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces in an effort to enhance transparency and demand that Israeli forces comply with international law. The bill is gaining support. To date, 29 members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors.  

You can be part of our efforts. Through our work, we have found the following messages to be effective in talking with members of Congress about Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. We encourage you to use them to communicate with your elected officials—whether in person, phone calls, emails, or letters.

1. Children are the future. They also are the present.

All societies value their children and build their dreams and hopes for a better future around their youth. In the occupied Palestinian territory, where children under 18 make up nearly half of the population, this is also true. These Palestinian children are not only the future, they are also the present and their rights are being violated when they are detained and tried in the military court system. When it comes to children--whether or not they have committed an alleged offense--international law demands that detention must be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest amount of time. The best interests of a child must be a primary concern.

2. Two sets of laws exist: one for Palestinians, another for Israelis. Even on the same land.

In the occupied West Bank, there are two separate legal systems operating in the same territory. The sole factor in determining which laws apply to a person is their nationality and ethnicity. Israeli military law, which denies people their fundamental rights, is applied to the entire Palestinian population—while Israeli settlers living in the West Bank are subject to the Israeli civilian and criminal legal system. No Israeli child comes in contact with the military court system.

Israel is the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes children in a military court system. Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years old, are prosecuted in the military court system each year.

3. Abuse in the military court system is widespread, systematic, and well documented. Military courts are not about providing justice.

For over a decade, the U.S. State Department has documented the ill treatment of Palestinian child detainees in its annual human rights country report on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

United Nations agencies and local and international human rights organizations--including UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, Bt’selem, Amnesty International, and Defense for Children International – Palestine--have documented the widespread, systematic, and institutionalized ill treatment of Palestinian children arrested and detained by Israeli forces.

Three out of four children arrested experience physical violence during arrest or interrogation by Israeli soldiers. Children are often arrested in night raids on their homes--blindfolded and hand tied, denied access to lawyers and their parents during interrogation, coerced into signing confessions, convicted in military courts, and imprisoned in detention centers, often inside Israel outside of the occupied West Bank, which makes it difficult for family to visit. In 2016, Israeli authorities increasingly used solitary confinement for interrogation purposes, a practice amounting to torture under international law.

Over 90 percent of Palestinian children taken to military court are convicted.

4. The U.S. government is not a neutral player on this issue, but could make a positive difference.

AFSC staff, volunteers, and others visit Congressional offices to raise awareness about Palestinian children in detention. Photo: AFSC/Irit Reinheimer

In recent years, members of Congress have publicly stated their concern for the rights of Palestinian children: 

  • In 2015, 19 members of Congress signed a letter to then Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to prioritize the rights of Palestinian children in the U.S. government’s bilateral relationship with Israel. 
  • One year later, 20 members of Congress called on President Obama to appoint a special envoy for Palestinian children. 
  • In January 2017, over 11,000 people signed a petition to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, requesting the U.S. government to prioritize human rights and hold Israel accountable for its systematic ill treatment of Palestinian child detainees.

U.S. military assistance to Israel has helped to sustain the military occupation and undermined the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians—and that must change. In September 2016, the U.S. agreed to give Israel $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade (fiscal years 2019-2028), the largest such aid package in U.S. history.

Realizing a just and lasting peace will require accountability. Continued U.S. military assistance to Israel will only maintain the status quo and Israel’s military occupation, including the abuse and detention of Palestinian children.

Want to learn more? Sign up to get email updates on how you can take action for peace in Palestine and Israel. And visit our No Way to Treat a Child website for additional resources, including videos, study guides, and more.


About the Author

Jennifer Bing has worked at AFSC for nearly 30 years, serving in various capacities in its Israel-Palestine programs. She directs the Chicago AFSC Palestine-Israel Program and works with the Palestine-Israel joint U.S. program. Jennifer has organized hundreds of speaking tours, conferences, workshops, advocacy campaigns, and educational programs about the Middle East in her tenure with AFSC. She currently works on two AFSC campaigns, Gaza Unlocked and Israeli Military Detention: No Way to Treat a Child.