Commentary: U.S. should speak up against mistreatment of Palestinian children

In this Thursday Jan. 11, 2018 photo, Palestinian children play in an alley at the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. From the Gaza Strip to Jordan and Lebanon, millions of Palestinians are bracing for the worst as the Trump administration moves toward cutting funding to the U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees across the region. The expected cuts could deliver a painful blow to some of the weakest populations in the Middle East and risk destabilizing the already struggling countries that host displaced Palestinian refugees and their descendants. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

Shouldn’t humane treatment of children be supported by all politicians?

In November, I and two others met with Rep. Chris Stewart’s office to ask that he cosponsor H.R. 4391: “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.”

After three months and three email prompts, Stewart has yet to respond to our concerns.

Israel is the only country in the world that systematically detains and prosecutes children in a military system. In doing so, Israel is violating the Convention on the Rights of Children, ratified by Israel in 1991. For over a decade, the U.S. State Department, in its annual human rights report, has documented Israel’s abusive treatment of Palestinian child detainees.

Palestinian children are arrested in middle-of-the-night raids on their homes. They are blindfolded, hand tied, threatened, physically and verbally abused, denied access to a lawyer, denied access to their parents, placed in solitary confinement, coerced into signing confessions (often in Hebrew, a foreign language for most) and, when convicted, are often imprisoned in Israel where their families cannot easily visit. An estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli security forces and prosecuted in Israel’s military court system since 2000.

I have visited the region and witnessed Israel’s brutal system of control over the Palestinian population. In Bethlehem I visited Aida Refugee Camp where Israel had recently built a 25-foot-high wall blocking the refugees’ access to adjacent Palestinian olive fields which, for the previous 68 years, had served as open space and playground for refugee children (and employment for adults). In Hebron, I spent the night with a Palestinian family living in an area where Israel had shut off the culinary water to Palestinians.

I also visited Ni’lin, a Palestinian village where Israel was confiscating the village’s olive fields. The villagers had protested on the previous day. Walking through the olive groves I witnessed many hundreds of spent tear gas canisters and other munitions, evidence of Israel’s violence against the protesting villagers. Palestinian children were gathering spent canisters for recycling. Munitions packaging, left behind by the Israeli soldiers, was clearly marked, “Made in Plainville, New York, USA”.

Back in the village I was invited to tea in a Palestinian home where I talked with some of the children. One boy, about 7, showed me a picture of his best friend, dead, shot in the head with a tear gas canister.

I also talked with a 15-year-old who hoped to attend college but knew it wasn’t possible. He had been resisting Israel’s occupation for years, sometimes throwing rocks. Under Israel’s legal system, resistance and dissent equate to terrorism, and give Israel legal cover to imprison thousands of Palestinians as terrorists. Now that this boy was a teen, Israeli soldiers were intent on arresting him. Soldiers had already initiated night raids on his home. Sooner or later he will be caught and then tried in Israel’s military court system that has a more than 99 percent conviction rate.

We cannot solve all of these issues with HR 4391, but we can certainly make a worthwhile start. Children are our future. It is time to insist that they all be treated humanely. It is time for Utah’s representatives to endorse HR 4391, putting the humane treatment of Palestinian children as a condition on the $3.8 billion of our tax dollars going to Israel every year.

Frances ReMillard

Frances ReMillard, Kamas, is the director of a Utah nonprofit, Utahns for a Just Peace in the Holy Land.