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HR 2407 – A bill “To promote human rights for Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation and require that United States funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children, and for other purposes.”

May 22, 2019

Israel-Palestine 2019 - Palestinian Dispersion

1.

Last night (May 21, 2019) J-Street, the liberal spin off of the mainstream Jewish Community that supports a two-street solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, not shy about calling Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza for what it is – an occupation – hosted a conversation with author Peter Beinart, contributing editor of the Atlantic Magazine. 

He spoke at Denver’s Jewish Community Center to an audience of about 100, from what I could tell, overwhelming Jewish, middle and upper middle class. Beinart is no lightweight. He is articulate, personable and relaxed, as comfortable discussing the Torah and the Old Testament as he is talking about the impact of the Israeli Occupation on Palestinian lives, the dangers of a war with Iran. Easily one of the most progressive speakers to be featured at an event at the Jewish Community Center, he connected to his audience.

He builds on and is a part of the tradition of liberal Zionists, Einstein, Israel Shahak, Uri Avnery, Menachem Klein that have tried to tone down Zionism’s harsher edge, speak of and try to practice universal human rights that includes the Palestinians, criticize the Occupation, but somehow still “love Israel.” In Israel they are a dying breed as the country lurches rightward to more ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, strangling Gaza. Still they are what is left – modest as it is – of what might be referred to as Israel’s conscience and I cannot and do not disregard them. To the contrary, I hold them in high respect. They all have shown some genuine courage…

As for the overall content of Beinart’s remarks, I’ll reserve  more in depth thoughts for later, excepting one point: several times – it was more than once – Beinart zeroed and openly criticized Israel’s harsh treatment of Palestinian children, 700 a year of whom have been arrested in late night raids, separated from their parents, thrown into Israeli prisons, mistreated, traumatized, in many documented cases tortured. He did not shy from either addressing these practices or openly criticizing them.

I would venture to say, that such open criticisms of the Israeli Occupation, if not rare in one of Denver’s key mainstream institutions, still, are somewhat unusual to hear. To his credit, he showed some genuine intellectual courage here as he did in other ways – refusing to define anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, his critique of the Trump Iran policies. While not endorsing the BDS movement (boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel to pressure it to end the Occupation), he did suggest (somewhat gingerly but still) that it might be appropriate for the U.S. to cut military aid to Israel to pressure the Netanyahu government to end the Occupation.

2.

Beinart did take written questions from the floor and I submitted one (which, like many others, was not chosen). Given his remarks on Israeli treatment of Palestinian children, did he support HR 2407, I asked? He might, given the thrust of his remarks. Certainly if he came out and publicly supported the bill, it would add yet another dimension to a growing movement.

“A Bill To promote human rights for Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation and require that United States funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children, and  for other purposes.”

So it begins a legislative process that is in many ways unprecedented, a reflection of the increasingly critical attitude among the American public concerning Israeli human rights violations, in this case, those specifically targeting children. Such a bill could not even be introduced without a sea change in public opinion.

HR 2407 introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on April 30, 2019 by U.S. Representative Betty McCollum, representing Minnesota’s 4th District. Actually McCollum is reintroducing a bill more or less identical to one she introduced in the last session of Congress. Formally entitled the “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Occupation Act.” The bill amends a provision of the Foreign Assistance Act, known as the “Leahy Law” to prohibit funding for the military detention of children in any country, including Israel.

In a strongly worded statement, McCullum offers an explanation for why she is reintroducing her bill:

“Israel’s system of military juvenile detention is state-sponsored child abuse designed to intimidate and terrorize Palestinian children and their families,” Congresswoman McCollum said. “It must be condemned, but it is equally outrageous that U.S. tax dollars in the form of military aid to Israel are permitted to sustain what is clearly a gross human rights violation against children.”

More than 10,000 Palestinian children have been arrested, detained, abused, and prosecuted by Israeli security forces in the Israeli military court system since 2000. Independent monitors such as Human Rights Watch and Israel’s B’Tselem have repeatedly documented that children are subject to abuse and, in some cases, torture — specifically citing the use of choke-holds, beatings, and coercive interrogation. Just weeks ago, CNN broadcast video showing armed Israeli soldiers entering a primary school in Hebron to arrest a 9-year-old who was then “frog-marched away and taken to an army vehicle.”

Further on in the statement she adds:

“I strongly believe there is a growing consensus among the American people that the Palestinian people deserve justice, equality, human rights, and the right to self-determination. It is time to stand with Palestinians, Americans, Israelis, and people around the world to reject the destructive, dehumanizing, and anti-peace policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump.”

As Josh Rueber notes in his recent (May, 1, 2019) well-done article at MondoWeiss detailing the bill’s history, this is not McCollum’s first effort to address what amounts to Israeli war crimes. In June 2015 she wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter – signed then by 19 Democratic representatives to Secretary of State John Kerry calling him him to “elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority status.” Kerry did not respond. A year later, in 2016, McCollum again wrote, this time to President Barack Obama urging him to appoint a Special Envoy for Palestinian youth to collect “vital information necessary to actively promote human rights.” 20 Democrats signed on to that letter, disregarded by the Obama Administration.

With both Kerry and Obama failing to respond, McCollum to the next step – the “first ever bill” – H.R. 4391, recognizing Palestinian human rights and attempting to give them a legal status. H. R. 4391 sought to prohibit funds used by Israel to “support the military detention, interrogation, abuse or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” It required the State Department to certify that funds not be used in this manner.

The bill has the full support of No Way to Treat A Child, a joint project of Defense for Children International-Palestine and the American Friends Service Committee, and supported by many peace and Palestinian solidarity organizations, among them, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Although the bill failed to become law, it did garner some 30 Democratic sponsors, including many who had not previously spoken out for or taken a position in support of Palestinian rights.

H.R. 2407 is literally a “child of H.R. 4391” with most of the same points. However the language critical of Israel is stronger. Comparing the two, Josh Rueber noted:

McCollum’s new-and-improved version of her bill strengthens the case for the urgency of Congress taking action to safeguard the human rights of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. H.R.2407 adds to the findings of the previous bill important quotations from Human Rights Watch, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, and the UN Committee Against Torture to buttress the incontrovertible evidence that Palestinian children are subjected to widespread, institutionalized, and systematic ill-treatment, abuse, and violence, including torture, by Israeli forces.

The bill is also seminal in that it calls out US complicity in Israel’s commission of human rights abuses of Palestinian children, something which the previous version omitted. “The United States provides in excess of $3.8 billion in annual foreign military assistance to the Government of Israel,” the bill notes, “which enables the military detention and abuse of Palestinian children by Israel’s military system of juvenile detention.” This is an exceedingly rare, if not unique, recognition in Congress of the deleterious impact of US taxpayer-funded weapons on Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation.

Joining those nationwide helping to build support for HR 2407, to add to its Congressional sponsors, to work for the bill to become law, is, in the current environment, a worthy step towards peace, towards ending the Israeli Occupation and moving to nudge that tyrannosaurus that is U.S. Middle East policy in a more humane, constructive direction. Others should join in.

 

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