What does this bill say about Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children?
This bill finds that Israel detains and prosecutes between 500-700 Palestinian children each year in a “military court system that lacks basic and fundamental guarantees of due process in violation of international standards.”
It quotes extensively from reports of human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Defense for Children International—Palestine, and B’Tselem, various UN agencies, and the Department of State to establish that Israel’s abuse of Palestinian children in military detention, including acts of torture, is widespread and systematic.
The bill notes that the United States provides Israel with $3.8 billion annually in military aid, which “enables the military detention and abuse of Palestinian children by Israel’s military system of juvenile detention.”
It maintains that “the detention, prosecution, and ill-treatment of Palestinian children living under military occupation in a military court system by the Government of Israel…violates international law and internationally recognized standards of human rights.”
The bill also establishes that it is the policy of the United States “to promote human rights for Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.”
How would this bill change US law if it enacted?
The bill would amend the “Leahy Law”, an existing provision in the Foreign Assistance Act designed to prevent US assistance from being used by foreign militaries to commit gross human rights violations. It would add that “no funds authorized to be appropriated for assistance to a foreign country may be used to support the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of children in violation of international humanitarian law,” a clear reference to Israel’s policies.
The bill also would authorize the United States to spend $19 million annually to fund nongovernmental organizations in their efforts to “monitor, assess, and document incidents of Palestinian children subjected to Israeli military detention” and to create a publicly available annual report documenting these efforts.
At least 50 percent of these funds also would go toward nongovernmental organizations providing “physical, psychological, and emotional health treatment, support, and rehabilitation for Palestinian children” who are “victims of military detention, abuse, and torture.”
Why is this bill significant?
This bill unapologetically calls out the gross human rights violations that are endemic to Israel’s separate-and-unequal juvenile military detention system of Palestinian children and unflinchingly documents how Israel pervasively subjects Palestinian children to abuse, violence, and even torture in its detention and prosecution of minors. It is unfortunately exceptionally rare for legislation in Congress to so starkly illustrate the extent of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians.
The bill is also important in that it acknowledges that the United States is complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinian children and enables them by providing Israel with $3.8 billion annually in taxpayer-funded weapons. It is critical and long overdue for Congress to acknowledge the deleterious impact of its policies on the human rights of the Palestinian people.
The bill is also noteworthy because, for the first time ever in a piece of legislation, Congress is attempting to ameliorate the negative impact on Palestinians of US weapons given to Israel by authorizing the funding of reporting on and rehabilitation of Palestinian children who are ill-treated in Israel’s military detention and judicial system.
Isn’t this bill similar to one introduced in the last Congressional session?
Yes, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who introduced this bill, also introduced a similar bill— Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act, H.R.4391—in the previous Congress. That bill was cosponsored by 30 Representatives. Click here to see if your Representative cosponsored it.
All bills which do not get enacted into law die at the end of the Congressional session. That’s why Rep. McCollum is reintroducing a different version of the bill in the current Congress.
If your Representative cosponsored the bill in the last Congressional session, they must agree to cosponsor it again in the current Congress. So whether your Representative did or didn’t support the previous version, please be sure to ask them to support the current version by taking action here.
Does authorizing money mean that Congress is actually giving the money?
No. In general, there are two steps involved in Congressional funding. The first step is known as authorization. This enables Congress to spend up to an authorized amount on a program. The second step is known as appropriation. If this bill were to become law, Congress would then need to actually appropriate the funds through the regular budget or a special appropriations process. But the first step of authorizing these funds is necessary and crucial to the legislative process.
What if my Representative thinks that this bill unfairly singles out Israel for special treatment?
Israel is the only country in the world that systematically detains, interrogates, abuses, and imprisons children in a separate-and-unequal military judicial system lacking in fundamental due process guarantees. Israel’s own policies and behaviors have created a unique situation that merits a unique response by Congress.