Letter to Obama from 20 members of Congress
On June 20, 2016, twenty members of Congress signed a letter to President Obama urging the appointment of a Special Envoy for Palestinian Children. These lawmakers are calling for justice and equality for Palestinian children and challenging the decades-long U.S.-led 'peace process' that has consistently demanded peace without justice.
The letter, initiated by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), expresses deep concern for Palestinian children living "under the constant fear of arrest, detention, and violence at the hands of the Israeli military" and calls upon the U.S. government to advance the cause of "security, human rights, equality, dignity, justice and opportunity" for all Palestinians.
State Department Response
In July 2016, the State Department responded to Rep. McCollum on the President’s behalf. The response letter expresses shared “concern over the conditions under which some of these [Palestinian] children are living,” as well as a shared “commitment to protect their right to grow up with dignity and opportunity.” It also generally acknowledges “ongoing violence” as deeply troubling.
The State Department then dismisses the need for a Special Envoy for Palestinian Children stating, “[b]ecause our Embassy in Tel Aviv, our Consulate General in Jerusalem, and our Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations have been deeply involved in all of these issues that so significantly affect the lives of Palestinian children, we believe that they are best placed at this time to carry out the important work that you suggest.”
In short, we are deeply troubled by the Administration’s response because it is devoid of any rights-based reply to the lawmakers’ core concerns regarding grave and systematic human rights violations against Palestinian children.
Responding to the lawmakers’ concern regarding the systematic denial of due process rights, including the renewed use of administrative detention against children, and widespread ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system, the State Department simply declared “[w]e will continue to engage with the Government of Israel on the implementation of policies to make the military detention system more humane, especially as it relates to minors.”
In a military detention system where three out of four Palestinian children experience some form of physical violence after arrest, and 97 percent are denied access to lawyers prior to or during interrogation; failing to demand that Israeli authorities comply with international law simply works to enable abuse and perpetuate injustice against Palestinian children.
The State Department, by declaring they will continue to work with Israeli authorities to make the military detention system “more humane,” mistakenly presumes that the Israeli military detention and court system can be improved and is interested in administering justice.
When it comes to children, international law demands that detention must be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time and the best interests of the child must be a primary concern.
In no circumstance should children be detained and prosecuted under the jurisdiction of military courts. As a minimum safeguard, while Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation continue to be arrested and prosecuted within the Israeli military court system, the United States should demand that Israeli authorities respect and ensure basic due process rights and the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment.