The briefing began with an opening statement from Congressman Keith Ellison, was part of a series of events in Washington D.C., including an interfaith vigil, and a screening of Detaining Dreams: Palestinian Children in Israeli Military Prisons.
— Defense for Children (@DCIPalestine) June 2, 2015
The No Way to Treat a Child campaign is led by the Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Policy, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Defense for Children International-Palestine, and supported from numerous other organizations.
The campaign seeks to end injustices faced by Palestinian children in the Israeli military court system.
Brad Parker, attorney and senior advocacy partner for Defense for Children International-Palestine, gave a brief presentation on child detention in the Israeli military court system.
“Israel is the only nation in the world that automatically and systematically prosecutes children in military courts…Israeli military courts lack basic due process and fundamental fair trial rights, and children are arrested and prosecuted in this system automatically and systematically.” Parker said.
According to Parker, approximately 500-700 Palestinian children are arrested and prosecuted in the military courts each year. However, Parker stated that these numbers do not include the 300-400 children who are detained for shorter periods of time, interrogated and released without formal charges.
Parker then responded to claims that injustices in the Israeli military courts exist because the system is broken.
“The military court system is operating exactly as it is intended to,” Parker said, “You don’t arrest kids in the middle of the night from their homes, ill-treat and physically abuse three out of four of these kids if you are interested in justice.”
Children in Israeli military detention often face torture, separation from their families, and they are often denied legal representation.
Tariq Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian-American teenager who was arrested and severely beaten by Israeli soldiers last summer, spoke about his torture and the lasting effect it has had on his life.
“I was chased…and beaten unconscious,” said Tariq. “The jail, in court, I was treated like and animal…and when I got out I was on house arrest in a different town they wouldn’t even let me go back to my family.”
When talking about how he feels now that his ordeal is over Tariq said, “I feel confused. I feel like I can’t be normal.”
Israeli soldiers very rarely face punishment or charges for abuse. They have impunity to arrest Palestinians without warrant and use whatever means they choose to interrogate them. This was the case with Abu Khdeir.
Tariq’s mother, Suha Abu Khdeir, said there has been no accountability for what happened to her son.
— JewishVoiceForPeace (@jvplive) June 2, 2015
“What happened to all the officers that participated in the beating of my son?” she asked. “Where are they now? There is no indication that any of them have had to face justice for the torture they put my son and my family through.”
Joe Stork from Human Rights Watch spoke briefly about the use of Palestinian children as agricultural labor in the Israeli settlements. On settlement farms, Palestinian children, who lack the protection of Israeli child labor laws, face dangerous working conditions, long hours, and low wages.
Rabbi Brant Rosen, the Midwest Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee, concluded the briefing by thanking members of congress and their staff for attending and making three requests.
Rosen first requested that members of congress to sign a letter asking the State Department to raise the issue of Palestinian children under military detention with the Israeli government.
Rosen’s second request was that members of congress seek assurances from the White House, State Department, and Department of Defense, that U.S. military aid to Israel does not include funding for the military detention of Palestinian children.
Rosen’s final request was that if members of congress are in the region that they visit Israeli military courts and meet with children’s rights activists to find out what is really happening on the ground.
The situation of Palestinian children in Israeli military courts is a vitally important issue in the United States. The U.S. gives approximately 3 billion dollars in military aid to Israel each year. This money is used to fund the torture and inhuman practices against Palestinian children in the military court system. Through this money the United States is directly implicated in violating these children’s rights and on the long-lasting trauma inflicted upon them and their families.
While this briefing was a success for the pro-Palestinian movement in the United States, it is unlikely that there will be any immediate changes. U.S. lawmakers are well-known for their reluctance to publicly criticize Israeli policies. In an interview with the Chicago Monitor, the director of the AFSC’s Middle East Program, Jennifer Bing characterized the response of members of congress as “Timid.” She stated “More advocacy is need from the grassroots to pressure officials to do the right thing.”
Here’s a video example of Israel’s treatment of children: