On November 14, 2017, the same day that US Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) proposed legislation “to prevent United States tax dollars from supporting the Israeli military’s ongoing detention and mistreatment of Palestinian children” – Bill van Esveld of Human Rights Watch (HRW) published an article on HuffPost in support of the bill. The opinion piece (“US Military Aid to Israel – from Another Perspective”) was only one example of HRW staffers promoting McCollum’s legislation, which also quoted from HRW reports. Director Ken Roth (here), Middle East Division Director Sarah Leah Whitson (here and here), and Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir (here, here, here, and here) were active on Twitter and other platforms.

The extensive advocacy by HRW and Van Esveld for the McCollum legislation is part of HRW’s adoption of the BDS agenda targeting Israel. In the past year, HRW has campaigned to kick Israel out of FIFA; assisted the UN Human Rights Council in its current effort to compile an anti-Israel blacklist; hired a professional BDS campaigner to run HRW’s Israel desk; and has received a grant for Israel-related work from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, one the main private foundations funding BDS campaigns in the US.

Like the McCollum legislation, most of the claims repeated by Van Esveld are false, highly distorted, and originate with Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), a Palestinian NGO involved in using children to promote BDS and with reported ties to the PFLP terror group. The following points illustrate just a few of the many problems in the article, in particular, and how HRW promotes distorted if not fabricated information relating to minors in the Israeli justice system, in general. (For a complete discussion of these inaccuracies see NGO Monitor’s reports “The Origins of ‘No Way to Treat a Child’: Analyzing UNICEF’s Report on Palestinian Minors,” “No Way to Represent a Child: Defense for Children International Palestine’s Distortions of the Israeli Justice System,” and “Addameer: The PFLP Network’s Prisoner Advocacy Wing.”):

  • Van Esveld’s article is based on one anecdote and numerous self-serving anonymous claims that cannot be verified. Van Esveld does not discuss whether complaints were filed to the relevant authorities by the alleged victims at any time or raised by their attorneys during judicial proceedings.
  • Van Esveld makes the false claim that alleged ill-treatment has become a “norm for many Palestinian children in the West Bank living under Israel’s repressive military occupation.” This claim simply repeats PLO propaganda. In contrast to Van Esveld’s agitprop, as a result of the Oslo Accords, the vast majority of crimes committed by Palestinian minors fall under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and are adjudicated in PA courts. Israeli military courts only have jurisdiction over security offences and limited criminal offences, carried out in Area C.4 Consequently, the military courts deal mainly with violent crimes, including murder and attempted murder. In fact, just days after the publication of Van Esveld’s op-ed, a 17-year old Palestinian ran over two civilians, including an elderly man, at a bus stop, and got out of his car and attempted to stab first responders.

Moreover, IDF statistics show that, since 2013, between 800-1,000 Palestinian minors are arrested annually in areas under Israeli control. Of those arrested, only 450-505 are prosecuted. In other words, on average, out of a population of one million minors (according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics), less than 85 Palestinian minors are arrested each month, and less than half of them are actually prosecuted, notwithstanding the upsurge in violence committed disproportionately by Palestinian teens beginning in October 2015. In comparison, nearly 90,000 minors aged 10-17 were arrested in England and Wales between April 2015-March 2016, an average of approximately 7,500 each month. Adjusted for population, the rate of arrests of minors in England and Wales is 5.5 times higher than the West Bank, even though it is not in an armed conflict situation.

  • The op-ed falsely alleges “the Israeli military applies harsh rules to Palestinian children and tries them in military courts.” Again, in contrast, the rules of evidence applied in the Israeli military justice system are identical to the rules of evidence applied in the Israeli civilian courts. The rules of procedure are identical with a few exceptions.
  • Van Esveld claims that “settler children living in the same territory are instead subject to Israel’s civil laws and courts.” Van Esveld intentionally attempts to mislead the uninformed reader, by inferring discrimination based on ethnicity. In reality, Israel’s policy is guided by citizenship/residency status and the requirements of international law. The occupation paradigm that Van Esveld and HRW apply to the West Bank require that Israel try Palestinians in military courts. Ethnicity is irrelevant.
  • Van Esveld’s claim that an “Israeli child living in a West Bank settlement throws a rock at a Palestinian car, he is legally protected from being interrogated at night by Israeli police, and can have a parent present at the interrogation” is simply misstating the law and deliberately misleading. Israeli law does not forbid nighttime interrogations. Similarly, under Israeli law, whether civilian or military, arrested minors do not have the right to have a parent present during their interrogation.
  • His claim that the summons program was “limited … to two West Bank areas and repeatedly suspended it, citing “the security escalation” is both factually incorrect and misleading. The initial “pilot” for the program was only operated in two areas specifically chosen after analysis of the areas in which the most arrests of minors were carried out. After the initial period, the program was extended to the rest of the territory. The program was suspended only after Hamas terrorists kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. Even then, the program’s suspension was intended to be temporary extended only because of the 2014 Gaza war and the upsurge in terror attacks beginning in October 2015. In addition, the program suffered from an entire lack of cooperation by the Palestinian Authority.
  • The premise that the prosecution of terrorists, including unfortunately many minors who commit violent crimes (murder and attempted murder), offends American values and is an abuse of human rights is perverse. The arrest and prosecution of violent offenders, including terrorists, is a foundation of the rule of law and human rights. What contributes to human rights abuse and the degradation of moral values is the promotion of impunity by HRW and Van Esveld for Palestinian terrorists, and his erasing the systematic exploitation of Palestinian minors by Palestinian terror groups to commit violent crimes, the culture of incitement and antisemitism promoted by the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian terror groups and dircongressected at children from the time they are born, and the glorification of and financial rewards to those that act on such incitement.