Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation

Concord Monitor “My Turn,” published April 8, 2017

The phone rang at 2 in the morning. Our friend Mafaq said, “Two Israeli military vehicles have come into the village. Soldiers have entered the house of our neighbor and taken away fifteen year old Khaled.” We dressed quickly and hurried through the dimly lit maze of narrow streets to Khaled’s home. A small gathering of men, women, and children stood across the street, distancing themselves from the armored military vehicles holding Khaled inside.

We were a World Council of Churches international team of four Ecumenical Accompaniers living for three months in a farming village forty kilometers northwest of Jerusalem.   As we approached Khaled’s home, the front door opened. The family clustered around as we entered: mother, father, two young children, and a grandfather who leaped from a mat on the floor against the far wall. We were invited to sit on the mat while the grandfather demonstrated what had happened. Speaking Arabic and greatly agitated, he raced back and forth across the sparsely furnished room showing how the soldiers had forced open the door armed with United States M16 rifles, asked for Khalid, herded the family into the far bedroom, rousted Khalid from sleep in the other bedroom, put him in handcuffs, and took him outside to the waiting vehicle while they searched his room leaving his possessions scattered.

By the time the grandfather had finished his pantomime, tea had been served and the military vehicles had driven away with Khalid. His parents, speaking English, explained the soldiers had refused to give a reason for taking Khalid and would not tell the parents where they were taking him. We sat with them as they vented their helplessness, fear, and controlled anger.

We learned later that while we had been listening to this family, a sound bomb had been thrown into a home in another part of the village and another teenage boy had been taken away. These incursions into this Palestinian village in the Israeli occupied Palestinian territory were repeated four times during our three-month stay. They continue in Palestinian villages and refugee camps to this day.

A United States State Department Human Rights Report released in March 2017 highlighted “grave violations against Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.” Among the issues cited were the ill treatment of child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights. Other violations included excessive use of force against children and unlawful killing, use of administrative detention (held without charges), and coercing Palestinian Arabic speaking children to sign confessions written in Hebrew. The report noted a “significant increase in detention of minors in 2016.”

Between 2012 and 2015, No Way to Treat A Child and the American Friends Service Committee reported that 97% of children had no parent present during interrogation or access to legal counsel. 84% of children were not informed of their rights. Three-quarters of detained children endured some form of physical violence. “Interrogators used position abuse, threats, and isolation to coerce confessions… 66 children were held in solitary confinement, for an average period of 13 days.”

Our experience with Khalid’s family and these human rights reports challenge the relationship between the United States and Israel. Vice President Penze said on March 31, “President Trump and I stand with Israel… because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight.” This statement is disconnected from the plight of Palestinian children. Our country’s cause is not to inflict military injustice upon children. The Israeli military’s abusive treatment of Palestinian children since 1967 does not reflect our values. The United State’s fight is not against Palestinian children.

Therefore, in order to “stand with Israel,” the United States must negotiate common values to support the relationship, guided by the State Departments 2017 report on human rights in Israel – Palestine concerning children. Meanwhile, consistent with U.S. values and considering 50 years of continuing violations by Israeli’s military, U.S. Senators’ and Representatives’ actions should include withholding military aid to Israel until acceptable uses are defined. The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act supports such action. It states that no assistance will be furnished to “any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

With its over $3 billion a year military aid to Israel, the United States is complicit in the military injustices inflicted on Palestinian children. Before any more aid is given, the Israeli military must cease human rights violations, insure basic due process rights, and establish an absolute prohibition against torture and the ill treatment of detained Palestinian children. Requiring these actions is not only consistent with our own values and sense of justice but also supportive to the many Jews and Israelis who are speaking out against the Israeli military’s unjust treatment of children in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The “phone” still rings since I’ve returned to my home in Concord. We still receive posts on Facebook from Palestinian friends, “last night the Israeli military came into our village at 3AM and took away two of the children.” As Jews, Muslims, and Christians, we need to support our leaders’ efforts to withhold military aid to Israel until the military no longer perpetrates fear and hopelessness against desperate Palestinians crying out for justice. Then, perhaps, the next communication from a Palestinian will be the joy of a great olive harvest or the success of the youth volleyball team. (names in article are fictitious)

Note:  The United Church of Christ General Synod; June 30 – July 4, 2017; will consider the resolution:  A Call for the United Church of Christ to Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation.  See <ucc.org> General Synod resolutions for detail.