Palestinian Children and Families Act Legislation Overview
The Palestinian Children and Families Act seeks to promote justice, equality and human rights for Palestinian children and families by prohibiting Israeli authorities from using U.S. taxpayer funds to detain and torture Palestinian children, demolish and seize Palestinian homes, and further annex Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.
What does the Palestinian Children and Families Act do?
This bill aims to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and to ensure that United States taxpayer funds are not used by the Government of Israel to support the military detention of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the occupied West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law.
The Palestinian Children and Families Act was reintroduced to the 118th Congress by Rep. Betty McCollum on May 5, 2023.
What activities does the Palestinian Children and Families Act prohibit using U.S. funds?
The bill specifically notes that funds will be prohibited for the following uses:
1. Supporting the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in violation of international humanitarian law or to support the use against Palestinian children of any of the following practices:
- Torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment
- Physical violence, including restraint in stress positions.
- Hooding, sensory deprivation, death threats, or other forms of psychological abuse.
- Incommunicado detention or solitary confinement
- Administrative detention, or imprisonment without charge or trial
- Arbitrary detention
- Denial of access to parents or legal counsel during interrogations
- Confessions obtained by force or coercion
2. Supporting the seizure, appropriation, or destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the Israeli-controlled and occupied West Bank in violation of international humanitarian law.
3. Deploying, or supporting the deployment of, personnel, training, services, lethal materials, equipment, facilities, logistics, transportation, or any other activity to territory in the occupied West Bank to facilitate or support further unilateral annexation by Israel of such territory in violation of international humanitarian law.
How does the Palestinian Children and Families Act hold Israeli authorities accountable?
The bill requires the Secretary of State to certify annually to the Foreign Affairs Committees and Appropriations Committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate that U.S. financial assistance to Israel was not used to support any of the prohibited activities.
Additionally, the Secretary of State will need to submit reports on a description of the nature and extent of detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children by Israeli military forces or police in violation of international humanitarian law; the seizure, appropriation, or destruction of Palestinian property in the Israeli-controlled and occupied West Bank by Israeli authorities in violation of international humanitarian law; and Israeli settlement activities, including an assessment of the compliance of the Government of Israel with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016).
Finally, the bill requires the Comptroller General to submit an annual report to Congress that identifies the specific programs and items funds for offshore procurement in Israel have been allocated to, including specific armed forces branches, units, and contractors; assesses executive branch compliance with legislative requirements governing offshore procurements in Israel; identifies, in detail, all end-use monitoring the Government of Israel is subject to with respect to United States-origin defense articles; and analyzes the effects of offshore procurements on Israel’s military budget and domestic economy since 1991, including an assessment of the manner and extent to which these funds have directly or indirectly supported illegal Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.
How does H.R. 3103 related to previous legislation championed by Rep. McCollum?
The Palestinian Children and Families Act is the fifth piece of legislation introduced by Congresswoman McCollum that focuses on Palestinian human rights, and the fourth that clearly highlights Palestinian children's rights and the Israeli military detention and court system.
In the 117th Congress, Rep. McCollum introduced the original Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, or H.R. 2590, which gained the support of 33 members of Congress. Rep. McCollum introduced two bills, H.R. 2407 and H.R. 8050, during the 116th Congress, which ended in January 2021. H.R. 2407, the Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, introduced in April 2019, sought to ensure that U.S. taxpayer funds provided to the Government of Israel were not used to support the widespread and institutionalized ill-treatment of Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces and prosecuted in Israeli military courts lacking basic fair trial protections. At the end of the 116th Congress, H.R. 2407 had the support of 25 members of Congress.
She introduced H.R. 8050, The Israeli Annexation Non-Recognition Act, in August 2020. That bill would have prohibited federal departments or agencies from recognizing, or implying recognition of, any claim by Israel of sovereignty over any part of the occupied West Bank in violation of international humanitarian law or customary international law. It also sought to prohibit the use of certain federal funds to support specified activities in West Bank territory that has been unilaterally annexed by Israel or to facilitate or support such annexation. 11 members of Congress cosponsored H.R. 8050.
McCollum’s groundbreaking legislation H.R. 4391 or the Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act was introduced in November 2017 in the 115th Congress and gathered support from a total of 31 members of Congress. H.R. 4391 was the first-ever bill introduced in Congress that focused on Palestinian human rights.
Background on Palestinian children in Israeli military detention
Children under 18 years old represent around 45 percent of the 2.9 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank.
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.