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In arguably the strongest signal Congress has ever sent in support for Palestinian human rights, 19 members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urging the Department of State to make the human rights of Palestinian children a priority in the U.S. bilateral relationship with Israel. The letter was led by Rep. Betty McCollum (MN) and the letter’s other signatories include both co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and members serving on the Armed Services Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Appropriations Committee, and the Ways and Means Committee.
These 19 members of Congress call on the Department of State to “elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority status in our bilateral relationship with the Government of Israel.” And note that they “fully expect the State Department to address the status of Israel’s military detention system’s treatment of Palestinian children in its annual human rights report.”
Rep. Betty McCollum makes it clear that this letter is intended to result in decisive action. In the Congresswoman’s own words: “Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children is an indefensible abuse of human rights. I hope this letter results in State Department pressure on the Government of Israel to end this systemic abuse immediately. Palestinian children should be treated exactly the same as Israeli or American children, without the fear that one day soldiers will arrest them, beat them, and lock them away in prison.”
Human Rights and Faith Groups Advocate for Letter
The groups advocating in support of the letter include: American Friends Service Committee, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Defense for Children International-Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Amnesty International USA, Pax Christi USA, and Churches for Middle East Peace.
As the JTA reported, while J Street did not actively mobilize around the letter, they “signaled support for its signing when the group’s position was solicited by lawmakers.”
Amnesty International highlighted for advocates the stark contrast between the two separate and unequal legal systems in play that is so foundational in Israel’s military occupation: “While Palestinian children and adults face Israeli military courts, Israeli settlers benefit from Israeli civil law,” Sunjeev Bery, Amnesty International’s Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa noted. “Israel gives settlers a different system of justice — even though they are living illegally in the very same occupied Palestinian territories.”
The letter comes just weeks after the launch of the “No Way to Treat a Child,” campaign led by the Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Policy, American Friends Service Committee, Defense for Children International Palestine, and supported by various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations. The campaign kicked off with an interfaith vigil held at the U.S. Capitol on June 1st, the International Day for the Protection of a Child.
The following day the American Friends Service Committee hosted a congressional briefing on child detention in Israel-Palestine. Congressman Keith Ellison (MN) introduced the briefing, and was followed by remarks from various human rights experts. Tariq Abu Khdeir presented on his experience as a Palestinian-American brutally beaten by Israeli police and subsequently detained when he traveled to Israel-Palestine for the memorial service of his cousin Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive by Israeli settlers.
In addition to Rep. McCollum, the following 18 members of Congress also joined this initiative:
Blumenauer, Earl (OR-3)
Beyer, Don (VA-8)
Carson, André (IN-7)
Conyers, John (MI-13)
Davis, Danny (IL-7)
DeFazio, Peter (OR-4)
Ellison, Keith (MN-5)
Eshoo, Anna G. (CA-18)
Grijalva, Raúl M. (AZ-3)
Johnson, Eddie Bernice (TX-30)
Johnson, Hank (GA-4)
Lee, Barbara (CA-13)
McDermott, Jim (WA-7)
McGovern, James P. (MA-2)
Norton, Eleanor Holmes (DC)
Pingree, Chellie (ME-1)
Rush, Bobby (IL-1)
Waters, Maxine (CA-43)
[Kate Gould is an analyst and advocate on Middle East policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation.]