Why is this legislation needed?
H.R. 4391 seeks to ensure that US taxpayer funds are not being used to support grave human rights violations against Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces in an effort to enhance transparency and demand that Israeli forces comply with international law. By aligning US policy toward Israel and the Palestinian people with international law norms, the bill would help increase protections for children and work to end grave human rights violations against Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces.
Children under 18 years old now represent 43 percent of the 2.9 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank.
Instead of growing up with a law-based, negotiated settlement founded on universal human rights principles, justice and respect for human dignity; Palestinian youth have had their futures stifled and suppressed by systemic discrimination, settlement expansion, and a military occupation with no end in sight where impunity is the norm.
Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children each year in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections.
Children within the Israeli military detention system commonly report physical and verbal abuse from the moment of their arrest, and coercion and threats during interrogations. Under Israeli military law, Palestinian children have no right to a lawyer during interrogation.
Ill-treatment of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank has been widely documented. In 2013, UNICEF released a report titled Children in Israeli military detention: Observations and recommendations. The report concluded that “ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.”
Subsequent UNICEF reports show that widespread ill-treatment of Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces is the norm rather than the exception.
Regardless of guilt or innocence, children in conflict with the law are entitled to special protections and all due process rights under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
International juvenile justice standards, which Israel has obliged itself to implement by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991, demand that children should only be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort, must not be unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, and must not be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Despite sustained engagement by UNICEF and repeated calls to end night arrests and ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, Israeli authorities have persistently failed to implement practical changes to end violence against child detainees.
Reforms undertaken by Israeli military authorities so far have tended to be cosmetic in nature rather than substantively addressing physical violence and torture by Israeli military and police forces.
In a military detention system where fair trial guarantees are denied and nearly three out of four Palestinian children experience some form of physical violence after arrest, failing to demand Israeli authorities comply with international law simply works to enable abuse and perpetuate injustice against Palestinian children.