BY DR. JOHN NIXON
Some of our politicians, especially some Democratic primary candidates, express horror and anger at our current policy of separation and detention of children along our southern border but seem to embrace similar policies of the Israeli government.
Two different legal systems are enforced in the West Bank. Palestinians live under Israeli military law while settlers (illegal under international law) enjoy all the protections of Israeli civilian law.
Multiple Israeli and international human rights groups such as B’Tselem, Military Court Watch, Defense of Children International, Human Rights Watch and American Friends Service Committee have documented abuses. The website, No Way To Treat a Child, is an excellent source of further information and short videos.
According to these sources, between 500 to 700 Palestinian children are arrested and prosecuted in military courts each year. In about half of these cases, according to sources, Israeli soldiers barge into a Palestinian home and take the children in the middle of the night. Most are then bound, blindfolded, roughed-up, verbally abused and taken for interrogation alone, frightened and sleep deprived. They are denied right to legal counsel or presence of a family member during interrogation.
The age range of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli army is officially between 12 and 18 years old, but many children 10 and under have been subjected to military detention. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., has spoken to Congress about these widespread and systematic abuses of children.
A common reason given for this treatment is simply suspicion of throwing stones, but in a number of cases the reasons are unclear. Imagine yourself as a 12-year-old boy who has been dragged out of his home, your parents unable to protect you, being roughed-up, blindfolded and having the police yelling in your ear that they were going to rape your mother or sister. You may be incarcerated in military prison for weeks to months before seeing your family or even being permitted a phone call. Perhaps you will be threatened with 5 to 20 years in prison for throwing stones, and then given an opportunity to be released if you sign a confession in Hebrew, a language you don’t understand. The deal may well require you to become an informant.
Why should this concern us? Because we, as Americans, provide substantial financial support for this policy through our military aid to Israel. Is this what we want our foreign aid to support? Is this who we are as a nation? Why do politicians, like Kamala Harris, who speak out about abuses at our southern border and challenge others on racism remain silent on abuse of Palestinian children? Perhaps their commitment to human rights is limited only to those situations that they consider politically expedient. They are wrong to turn a blind eye to decades of denying Palestinian children rights to freedom and equality.
There are, at last, early baby steps in Congress to recognize that Palestinians are due the same fundamental human rights as everyone else. Rep. McCollum has introduced legislation, H.R. 2407, The Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act. This bill amends the Foreign Assistance Act or “Leahy Law” to prohibit funding for military detention of children in any country, including Israel. Such legislation would be a positive small step towards decreasing tension and promoting peace in Israel-Palestine. As of today, 21 members of Congress support H.R. 2407, including three U.S. representatives from Illinois. So far, neither Darin LaHood nor Cheri Bustos have cosponsored this legislation. Why not? They should be encouraged to do so. It is not controversial to defend children, even if they are not our own. Please call or contact your representative and encourage them to support and cosponsor H.R 2407.
Dr. John Nixon is a retired pathologist in Peoria who has traveled extensively in the Middle East.