This story was originally published in the March 2020 issue of Quaker Action. It was updated in November 2020.
Early on the morning of Sept. 20, 2017, around 2 a.m., Israeli soldiers entered the home of Laith, a 17-year-old from Kafr Ein village in the West Bank. Laith was bound, blindfolded, and physically assaulted – and was never presented with a warrant or told why he was being arrested.
Over the next 11 hours, Laith was transferred to multiple locations and interrogated about throwing stones, which is considered a “security offense” under Israeli military law. He denied the allegations against him.
Laith would spend 46 weeks – nearly a year – in detention. He would have multiple court appearances, but never be charged with any crime. And on Aug. 16, 2018, he would be released without explanation, having missed his final year of high school.
Laith is just one of the 10,000 Palestinian children in the West Bank who, since 2000, have been arrested and held in the Israeli military detention system that denies them their basic rights. For the past four years, AFSC and Defense for Children International-Palestine have partnered on the No Way to Treat a Child campaign to expose this widespread and systemic abuse of Palestinian children. It is one part of AFSC’s ongoing work to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory.
“All children have the right to a safe and just future,” says Jennifer Bing, AFSC coordinator for the campaign. “But every year, Israel prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts. We must put a stop to this inhumane treatment – and the U.S. has a critical role to play in making that happen.”
No Way to Treat a Child
Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts. There, Palestinian children lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections. Children typically arrive to interrogations bound, blindfolded, and sleep-deprived. They often give confessions after verbal abuse, threats, and physical and psychological violence. They have no right to legal counsel during interrogation, and Israeli military court judges rarely exclude confessions obtained by coercion or torture.
Our No Way to Treat a Child campaign calls on the United States government to use all available means to pressure Israeli authorities to end the detention and abuse of Palestinian children. First and foremost, that means prohibiting U.S. taxpayer money from funding the military detention of children by any country, including Israel.
Toward this end, AFSC has worked with faith communities, partner organizations, and individuals across the U.S. to engage members of Congress through briefings on Capitol Hill; legislative visits; and emails, petitions, and phone calls from constituents. We offer trainings and webinars, organize speaking tours, and advise faith-based communities and others on ways to make their voices heard.
And our efforts are making a difference. In April 2019, Rep. Betty McCollum introduced new legislation to hold Israel accountable for its continued abuse of Palestinian children in military detention. The “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act” (H.R. 2407) would ensure that U.S. financial assistance to Israel is not used for the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children. H.R. 2407 builds from a similar bill introduced by McCollum in 2017, which was the first-ever bill to address Palestinian human rights in Congress. It was signed by 31 representatives.
“The children this legislation seeks to protect are Palestinians who have lived their entire lives under Israeli military occupation,” McCollum said in a statement. “And, it is U.S. tax dollars provided by Congress, the unregulated $3.8 billion military aid package to Israel, that helps to cover the cost of Israeli soldiers arresting, interrogating, and abusing children, some as young as nine years old, in the name of Israeli security.”
By November 2020, 25 representatives had signed support for H.R. 2407, including several new progressive members of Congress who have responded to grassroots pressure to support Palestinian rights. “We’re seeing more members of Congress who are not afraid to challenge the status quo when it comes to addressing human rights violations that are happening in other countries, including Israel,” Jennifer says. “I’m particularly pleased that all supporters of this bill were re-elected by wide margins in the 2020 election. We also have commitments from several newly elected representatives to support new legislation on this issue next year.”
Congregations step up
Since the launch of the No Way to Treat a Child campaign, several U.S.-based church bodies have passed national resolutions to protect the rights of Palestinian children, including the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church, and, most recently, the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“Jesus said that it would be better to have a millstone hung around the neck and be cast into the sea rather than to cause even one of these little ones to stumble,” says the Rev. Jim Moos, UCC associate general minister for global engagement and operations. “We have a moral obligation to leverage our support of the state of Israel to ensure that the mistreatment of Palestinian children ceases and that justice be accorded to all.”
Other congregations have developed curricula to study the issue, hosted speaking events in their communities, lobbied their members of Congress, and organized visits with families impacted by detention during their own trips to the occupied Palestinian territory.
Would you like to help us build support for Palestinian rights?
Visit us at afsc.org/nowayresource to:
1) Email your member of Congress: Urge them to support legislation to end the detention of Palestinian children.
2) Check out our messaging tips: We offer best practices to talk to your children, representatives, and others.
3) Sign up for monthly webinars led by the No Way to Treat a Child campaign. You can also access videos and advocacy resources online.
In addition, AFSC is looking for 100 Quaker meetings and other congregations to engage with our No Way to Treat a Child campaign. Will yours be one of them? Contact Lucy Duncan, director of Friends Relations, to learn more.