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Palestinian children’s rights focus of new US bill

Palestinian children's rights focus of new US bill

Members of the US Congress introduced the "first-ever" bill that seeks to promote the rights of Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.

Introduced on Tuesday by Betty McCollum, a Democrat and US Representative from Minnesota, the bill has at least nine co-sponsors and seeks to prohibit US funding that facilitates human rights abuses that impact Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

In order to become law, the bill would first have to pass the House of Representatives and then be introduced and passed in the Senate.

While that is unlikely to happen, the bill's supporters hail its introduction as a positive development and an attempt to change public opinion on Israel and Palestine.

I'm introducing legislation to promote human rights by ensuring American tax dollars don't support Israel's military detention of Palestinian children.
Learn more → https://t.co/U0JRt2tCii

— Rep. Betty McCollum (@BettyMcCollum04) November 14, 2017

The Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Human Rights Act would require the US secretary of state to ensure that US financial aid to Israel does not contribute to the "ill treatment" of Palestinian children in the West Bank.

"The purpose of this act is to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinian children and to ensure that United States taxpayer funds shall not be used to support the military detention of Palestinian children," the bill reads.

The bill would prohibit funds going to a slew of practices considered illegal under international law, including sensory deprivation, death threats, torture, physical violence, solitary confinement, denial of access to relatives and council and imprisonment without charge or trial.

'Unprecendented step'

It was supported by Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), a human rights group based in the occupied West Bank, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker charity, and Amnesty International, among other human rights organisations.

Jennifer Bing, Palestine-Israel programme director for the AFSC, described the bill as an "unprecedented step".

"The legislation introduced by 10 members of Congress comes after building a base of supporters across the United States who are horrified that US tax dollars could be used to detain children in conditions that violate international law," Bing told Al Jazeera.

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"No children should be subjected to night raids, solitary confinement, interrogation without legal representation, or physical and mental abuse that are routinely practiced by the Israeli army in the West Bank."

Arguing that the US should prioritise children's rights when providing financial and military aid to countries across the world, Bing added: "Abuses of Palestinian children in Israel's military court system is well documented, yet awareness and action in the US focused on ending this unjust and unequal system has until recent years been nonexistent."

Children imprisoned

Brad Parker, an international advocacy officer and lawyer at DCIP, said the bill "an important step not only to raise awareness on grave violations against Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces, but also is a direct challenge to the systemic impunity enjoyed by Israeli forces" in occupied Palestinian territory.

"The US government provides over $3bn in military aid to Israel each year while Palestinians enter their 50th year living under an oppressive Israeli military occupation where systematic human rights violations and systemic impunity are the norm," Parker told Al Jazeera.

"By prohibiting US financial support of abuses against Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system, this bill aligns US policy towards Israel with international law and sends a clear rights-based message to Israeli authorities that widespread ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees must end."

Since the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as the Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights.

According to DCIP, Israel has detained, interrogated, arrested or jailed some 10,000 Palestinian children over the last 17 years.

The group says that between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are prosecuted in Israeli military courts each year.

As of October, at least 280 Palestinian children were held in Israeli prisons, according to the Ramallah-based prisoner rights group Addameer.

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In September, an Israeli military court sentenced 16-year-old Lama al-Bakri to prison time and fined her 6,000 shekels ($1,750) over an alleged attack in December 2015, when she was shot and detained after reportedly attempting to carrying out a stabbing at the Kiryat Arba settlement in the West Bank.

Also in September, an Israeli military court sentenced two Palestinian children to 18 years in prison for allegedly executing a stabbing attack in the East Talpiyot settlement in Jerusalem in May 2016. A third child was sentenced to more than two years in prison for allegedly helping plan the attack, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported at the time.

More than 500,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, according to the Israeli rights group B'Tselem.

Anti-BDS legislation

While pro-Palestinian legislative proposals are rare, the US Congress has had a long history of bills that support Israel.

Tuesday's bill comes amid a string of laws and bills in state legislatures that seek to criminalise the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Modeled off anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa, BDS was launched in 2005 as a global campaign to hold Israel accountable for international law violations and human rights abuses.

Enjoying broad backing from Palestinian civil society, the movement urges boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel until it ends the ongoing occupation of Arab land, provides Palestinian citizens of Israel with full equality and allows Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

Last month, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law an executive order barring companies that boycott Israel from obtaining state contracts.

The move came just a week after Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed a similar executive order that also banned firms that boycott Israel from state contracts.

At least 23 states have introduced such legal measures across the US, prompting the condemnation of rights groups and activists.

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