On April 15, 2021, Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced the “U.S. Commitment to the Universal Human Rights of Palestinians Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act.” This is McCollum’s third such bill in recent years – written in conjunction with anti-Israel non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and meant to advance BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions) and demonization of Israeli companies and defense forces.
NGO Monitor has analyzed the draft bill and notes the following fundamental false claims, misstatements and distortions. A number were included in the 2017 and 2019 versions of the legislation and were highlighted in our earlier analyses, but are repeated in the latest text.
Involvement of NGOs, including terror-linked actors
Like McCollum’s previous bills, filled with false allegations regarding Israeli treatment of Palestinian children, the current version relies on Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), as is apparent in the text and explicitly acknowledged by a DCI-P official in a March 9 2021 webinar. These have been, essentially, DCIP projects under McCollum’s name.
DCI-P is linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terror organization as listed by the US and other governments. To date, NGO Monitor has identified 11 current and former DCI-P board members, officials, and employees linked to the PFLP (for more details, see Appendix 1 below and NGO Monitor’s report “Defense for Children International – Palestine’s Ties to the PFLP Terrorist Organization”).
Moreover, members of DCI-P’s board have utilized social media to glorify terrorists who murdered Israeli civilians, including a baby (for more details, see Appendix 1 and NGO Monitor’s report, “DCI-P’s New Board: Celebrating Terrorists”). Such vile celebration of violence is incongruous with the façade of human rights activity that the NGO presents.
In addition, other political advocacy NGOs are referenced in the draft, including Human Rights Watch, Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, B’Tselem and HaMoked. These NGOs lack credibility, and their factual and legal claims must be carefully scrutinized and independently verified. Moreover, many of the claims sourced to these NGOs appear to actually derive from DCI-P publications (see below).
In consecutive paragraphs, the bill cites claims from Human Rights Watch (HRW), HaMoked, and B’Tselem regarding the supposed ill-treatment of Palestinian minors by Israeli authorities – suggesting independent corroboration of the allegations of Israeli wrongdoing. In fact, all three are simply repeating and amplifying the same DCI-P narrative. Furthermore, the claims are methodologically suspect and rely on out-of-date information.
- No source is provided in HRW’s 2020 World Report, referenced in the bill, for its claims regarding Israeli treatment of Palestinian detainees. HRW has never published a report focusing on the detention of Palestinian minors, meaning it is simply recycling claims originating with DCI-P.
- The October 2020 HaMoked report cited by McCollum relies only on affidavits taken from “81 Palestinian teenage boys.” It is unclear on what basis these respondents were selected nor can their claims be corroborated due to the anonymity granted them.
- The 2018 B’Tselem report lists its sources as 2015 DCI-P data, a 2015 UNICEF report that was also influenced heavily by DCI-P, affidavits collected by Military Court Watch (MCW), and “information B’Tselem collected for the purpose of the present report from 60 minors arrested over the last two years.” In other words, a mixture of laundered DCI-P allegations, along with anonymous and unverifiable claims – both several years old. (For more information on these reports, see NGO Monitor’s “The Origins of ‘No Way to Treat a Child’: Analyzing UNICEF’s Report on Palestinian Minors,’” and “No Way to Represent a Child: Defense for Children International Palestine’s Distortions of the Israeli Justice System.”)
McCollum’s proposal also erases crucial context, in a number of key areas:
Violence committed by Palestinian minors
The McCollum-NGO bill is based on a false narrative that is designed to demonize Israel. In contrast to the depiction of arbitrary detention of Palestinian children, Palestinian minors are routinely recruited by and exploited by terror organizations for murderous attacks on Israelis.
- On May 14, 2018, Islamic Jihad announced the deaths of three of its members, killed in clashes with Israeli forces on the Gaza border, including a 17 year-old.
- On July 26, 2018, 17 year-old Tareq Yousef stabbed Yotam Ovadia to death and injured two additional Israeli civilians, in Adam.
- On September 16, 2018, 17 year-old Khalil Jabarin stabbed US citizen Ari Fuld to death at a shopping center.
These and many other examples are entirely erased by DCI-P and McCollum.
US juveniles arrested at higher rates than Palestinians
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are over 1.3 million Palestinians aged 17 and younger in the West Bank. Even accepting DCI-P’s un-corroborated highest estimate of 700 detentions a year, this yields a detention ratio of 0.053%.
According to US Department of Justice data, in 2017 – the latest year available, 0.13% of American juveniles were held in juvenile facilities.
Specific claims on children’s rights
The bill quotes a litany of NGO accusations regarding Israeli policies, which purportedly necessitates legislative responses:
Number of minors arrested
Claim: The bill cites DCI-P’s claim that “The Government of Israel and its military detains around 500 to 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 each year.”
NGO Monitor’s analysis:
Various NGOs provide vastly different data, and it is unclear what precisely each group is measuring and whether “detention” always means the same thing (imprisoned after conviction? pre-trial arrest? brought in for questioning? temporarily detained and released after a few hours or even immediately?). As noted, DCI-P originated the claim of 500-700 detentions of minors per year, but has not cited to any publically available statistics to support this assertion.
In contrast, according to data published by B’Tselem, which it obtained from Israeli Prison Service (IPS) and the IDF, Israel has never detained 500 Palestinian minors in a single year. According to its database, in 2018-2020, 585 Palestinian minors were detained by Israel (230 in 2018; 186 in 2019; 169 in 2020). The statistics in B’Tselem’s database show that, since 2011, Israel only detained more than 250 minors in a single year in the years 2015-2017, a period with a sharp increase of violent attacks against Israelis, with many perpetrated by Palestinian minors.
The annual State Department reports on human indicate that, overall, the numbers of detained Palestinian minors have decreased in recent years. The 2019 report states, “the monthly average number of minors in detention during the year was down from 2018 and at the lowest since 2014.” The 2020 Human Rights report on the West Bank and Gaza adds, “According to Israel Prison Service (IPS) figures obtained by MCW [Military Court Watch], as of September the monthly average number of Palestinian minors in Israeli detention during the year was down from 2019 and at the lowest since MCW began keeping records in 2008” (emphasis added).
Access to lawyers and Rights during interrogation
Claim: The bill quotes a 2020 report by Human Rights Watch alleging, “Israel denied Palestinian children arrested and detained in the West Bank legal protections granted to Israeli children, including settlers, such as protections against nighttime arrests and interrogations without a guardian present.” The HaMoked and B’Tselem documents make similar claims about night arrests.
NGO Monitor analysis:
Israeli domestic law provides no protection against night arrests for its own citizens. Moreover, Israeli law allows for interrogation of Israeli minors without a parent present in a number of circumstances, including if doing so will:
- Harm the investigation or another investigation
- Harm the physical or mental wellbeing of the minor or of another person
- Lead to obstruction of justice
- Harm state security
- Threaten the prevention of additional crimes
- Prevent the release of the minor or other detainees
- Violate the privacy of another minor
Additionally, In Israel, minors who are interrogated under arrest are not entitled to have their parents present (para 9H). More broadly, there is no internationally recognized standard that requires parents to be present during the interrogation of minors.
McCollum’s claim: The bill cites DCI-P in claiming that “under Israeli military law, children do not have the right to a lawyer during interrogation.” Similarly, it quotes B’Tselem that Palestinian minors are “not given a chance to consult with a lawyer before the interrogation.”
NGO Monitor analysis:
These claims are contradicted by an official from DCI-P itself. According to a March 31, 2021 interview with the head of DCI-P’s Hebron office, Riad Arrar – who has led the NGO’s Children Protection Program, “DCI-P lawyers represent the children in the courts from the moment of the arrest until the moment of the verdict, and after it as well, when the indictment is prepared” (emphasis added). According to Arrar, “the lawyer accompanies the child even when the meeting with the Israeli officers is taking place, and he clarifies to him his rights and responsibilities with regard to remaining silent or refraining from answering the investigators” (emphasis added).
This is consistent with Israeli law which provides that every suspect has the right to consult with counsel before being interrogated (Paragraph 56). Alongside the general provision, the law applied in the West Bank places a specific and additional onus on the interrogator of a minor to ensure that the nature of the right has been explained in language that takes into account the age and maturity of the suspect (Paragraph 136C(a)).
Precedent set down by the Israeli Supreme Court provides that statements taken from a suspect in breach of this right can be excluded.
Status of military courts
Claim: The bill alleges that Israel “prosecutes [Palestinian minors] before a military court system that lacks basic and fundamental guarantees of due process in violation of international standards.” It also implies that it is illegal for the Israeli military to detain Palestinian minors, per se (see 4.1 and 5.a.1).
NGO Monitor’s analysis:
These claims misrepresent Israeli practice and distort international law regarding military courts.
Israel is required by international law to try Palestinians, including minors, in military courts. Use of Israeli civilian courts for Palestinians would require annexation of the West Bank – precisely the step that McCollum-DCIP condemn on pages 10-11 of the bill.
Also, and contrary to McCollum/DCI-P’s claims, the military courts only have jurisdiction over some Palestinian minors; Palestinians living in Israel (including the parts of Jerusalem referred to in the legislation) and Gaza are tried in Israeli civilian courts.
Use of administrative detention
Claim: “The nongovernmental organization Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP) documented 37 Palestinian children detained and placed in administrative detention, or detention without charge or trial, since Israel renewed the practice against minors in October 2015.”
The bill also cites ‘‘The State Department’s 2016 Annual Report on Human Rights Practices” that “noted the renewed use of ‘administrative detention’ against Palestinians, including children, a practice in which a detainee may be imprisoned indefinitely, without charge or trial, by the order of a military commander or other government official. ”
NGO Monitor’s analysis:
McCollum provides a partial quote of the State Department report to suggest that this was a finding of the US government. Rather, the full quote from the State Department’s 2016 Annual Report reads, “NGOs reported a significant increase in detentions of minors including in the Jerusalem area” (emphasis added), with McCollum presenting NGO claims as if they have been verified by the State Department. The bill does not provide the full context, which appears in the State Department report, of a massive increase in terrorism and other violence from Palestinian minors, in particular in Jerusalem.
As opposed to McCollum’s claim that administrative detention is “indefinite,” the State Department describes how “most detainees [are held] for less than one year but held some for more than one year and a small number for more than two years.”
According to IPS data published by B’Tselem, since 2015, 17 Palestinian minors at most have been placed in administrative detention. B’Tselem presents the number of minors held in administrative detention during a given year, so it is unclear if these represent 17 individual cases, or if some of them were held in detention over multiple calendar years. (Based on the IPS data cited above, at 6 instances, 2015 represents the high water mark of Palestinian minors in administrative detention.)
Allegations of mistreatment
McCollum’s claim: Citing DCI-P, the legislation alleges Israeli abuse of Palestinian prisoners.
NGO Monitor’s analysis:
As with the rest of DCI-P’s claims regarding Israeli practice, these are based on anonymous, unverifiable affidavits.
As noted in the 2020 State Department report, “The same evidentiary rules used in Israeli criminal cases apply in both Israeli military and civilian proceedings; for example, Israeli authorities may not base convictions solely on confessions.” Additionally, Israeli rules of evidence provide that statements, including confessions, of defendants are only admissible in court if they were given freely and willingly (para, 12).
The 2021 version of the draft bill adds the issue of alleged house demolitions. The draft text cites UN- OCHA claims regarding demolitions in Area C of the West Bank, arguing that “Israel’s drive to perpetuate its control over the occupied West Bank results in other serious violations of international law, including the unlawful demolition of Palestinian homes and the forcible transfer of Palestinian civilians.”
The bill fails to explain that Israeli policies derive from the provisions of the Oslo Accords, under which Israel has responsibility for the administration of Area C. As such, and even under the rules of occupation that the NGOs and McCollum apply, Israeli authorities must approve all construction, and they are permitted to demolish structures that are built illegally.
More importantly, Area C demolitions have been subject to extensive Israeli judicial review – including by the Supreme Court. Israeli courts have issued hundreds of decisions relating to the issue. Even when the building is clearly illegal, the courts will examine the proportionality of a demolition before it will be authorized. In a number of instances, it has issued injunctions against demolition orders.
Crucially, when approving demolition orders, the Supreme Court often cites to the harm to Palestinians if the orders are not implemented. Judges have noted the risk to children studying in structurally unsound schoolhouses and the dangers associated with living in a live firing zone. This is particularly salient, as the bill cites UN data claiming that 53 schools “are subject to demolition orders issued by Israeli authorities.”
Additionally, Palestinians (often with active support of European governments and NGOs, as documented in detail) will deliberately rebuild illegal structures after they are demolished, in order to promote the political narrative seeking to demonize Israel. This artificially increases the number of demolitions and reflects the disregard by political actors for the permanent needs of affected populations, particularly in supporting environmental principles.
For instance, in describing the confiscation of “18 residential and animal structures in Humsa,” in February 2021, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), noted that “most” of these “had been provided as a humanitarian response to previous demolitions and confiscations.”
(For more information, see NGO Monitor’s report, “Dutch-funded expansion of Palestinian control in Area C of the West Bank”)
Specific claims on demolitions
Legality of demolitions
Claim: The legislation asserts that “The destruction of property in an occupied territory is prohibited under international humanitarian law, unless absolutely necessary for military operations.’’
NGO Monitor’s analysis:
The zoning and planning regime in Area C of the West Bank is delineated in the Oslo Accords, which state that Israel will retain responsibility for these issues in Area C. Therefore, building in the area requires Israeli approval.
Scope of demolitions
Claim: “The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions [ICAHD] reports that Israel has demolished more than 48,000 Palestinian structures since 1967, of which 24,000 are estimated to be homes.”
NGO Monitor’s analysis:
These long-term and unsourced statistics are irrelevant to diagnosing the current situation.
According to B’Tselem, since 2010, Israel as demolished approximately 1,500 West Bank residences. In other words, the old data is being used in an obvious attempt to inflate figures.
Claim: “The United Nations Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in January 2021 that during 2020, Israeli authorities demolished or seized 851 structures across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”
NGO Monitor’s analysis:
This statement mistakenly and misleadingly conflates the West Bank and Jerusalem, with the latter governed by Israeli domestic law and planning authorities.
Moreover, the data is cited manipulatively, ignoring the broad array of items considered by OCHA to be “structures.”
According to OCHA “structures may be residential, livelihood-related, service-related or part of infrastructure. Residential structures – homes, certain parts of homes, apartment buildings etc. – may be inhabited (in which case their demolition typically results in displacement) or uninhabited (for example, if they are under construction). Livelihood structures may include shops, animal shelters, walls, warehouses and more. Structures that are part of infrastructure may include water pipes, roads, network facilities, among others.” (emphases added)
Practically, this means that a “demolished structure” could be a chicken coop, latrine, water pipe, or other items.
According to OCHA’s database, during 2020, Israel demolished 116 “inhabited residential” structures in the West Bank.
As noted above, the context of politically and strategically-motivated Area C building initiatives is crucial to understanding demolitions in the area, alongside the practice of rebuilding despite court rulings and court-approved demolitions.
For years, Area C demolitions have been subject to extensive Israeli judicial review – including by the Supreme Court, and Israeli courts have issued hundreds of decisions relating to the issue. In particular, even when the building is clearly illegal, the courts will examine the proportionality of a demolition before it will be authorized. In a number of instances, it has issued injunctions against demolition orders.
The Supreme Court has cited a number of concerns when approving these orders, including in areas were 2020 demolitions occurred. For instance:
Humsa al Bqaia
- Legal proceedings in the Humsa area have been ongoing since at least 2010.
- In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled, “This area was declared a firing zone in 1972. Additionally, no one challenges the fact that the appellants have no recognized property rights on these lands. Practically speaking, these are squatters that use the land for herding. There is also no challenge to the fact that the IDF conducts exercises in this area, and therefore, during exercises, the appellants and the local residents, are asked to vacate the area, not only for security reasons, but for their own personal safety as well. Moreover, the construction in the area is unregulated and illegal.” (emphases added)
- Legal proceedings in the Massafer Yatta area in the South Hebron Hills have been ongoing since 2000, regarding structures that were built illegally in an area defined as a closed military firing zone and used by villagers from the nearby village of Yatta on a seasonal basis only.
- In a November 2019 decision regarding Massafer Yatta the Supreme Court ruled that “[The] petitioner fully admits that the building was constructed without a lawful building permit…[and] did not prove his proprietary connectionto the land on which the building is built…moreover…the building was erected in a “firing zone” known as ‘Firing Zone 918.’“ (emphases added)
- Legal proceedings regarding illegally built structures in Abu a-Nuwar have been ongoing since at least 2015.
- In 2017, the Supreme Court noted “The respondents stated that the building in question was most likely built a few days before the submission of the petition, and that it was a ‘dangerous building that endangers the lives of the students studying in it’ and, which according to an engineering opinion (attached to the response), ‘was built without any foundations’ and ‘may collapse on its occupants at any time.’ Thus, it has been argued that any delay in the demolition of the structure, which constitutes a dangerous safety hazard, may cost human lives.Therefore, it was requested that the temporary order given, which prevents the demolition of the building, be revoked. It was further alleged that the building was built without a lawful building permit, and even without any attempt being made to submit such a permit. (emphasis added)
Appendix 1: DCI-P’s Ties to the PFLP
Ties between DCI-P and the PFLP include:
- Hashem Abu Maria – Former coordinator for DCI-P’s “community mobilization unit,” was killed in clashes with the Israeli military in July 2014. Following his death, he was hailed by the PFLP as a “leader” and a “martyr.” He served as a DCI-P official during the years it influenced UNICEF and other publications cited by McCollum. The terror organization held public commemorations in his honor and published an official death notice.
- At a September 2014 event mourning Abu Maria, DCI-P General Director Rifat Odeh Kassis addressed a crowd in a courtyard adorned with PFLP flags and posters; many of the participants wore PFLP paraphernalia.
- Riad Arrar –Arrar is Director of DCI-P’s Child Protection Program. He has spoken publicly at PFLP events, including at one commemorating PFLP members killed while throwing fire bombs. Many of the participants were clad in military garb, and several appeared to be children.
- Nasser Ibrahim- Nasser Ibrahim was the President of DCI-P’s General Assembly– one of the group’s governing bodies – until at least 2018 and previously served several terms on DCI-P’s board. Ibrahim is the former editor of the PFLP’s weekly publication, El Hadaf. Additionally, in 2014, the PFLP unveiled a mural “developed by writer and journalist Nassar Ibrahim,” honoring PFLP founder George Habash. Several PFLP members attended and spoke at the event.
Glorification of Violence by DCI-P Board Members
- On June 21, 2020, the Palestinian NGO Network(PNGO) reported that Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P) had elected a new board. Individuals who celebrated convicted terrorists, and posted violent images, were appointed.
- This includes Adla Nazer, listed as the new board’s secretary, who posted pictures honoring Salah Barghouti, Ashraf Na’alwa, and Ahmed Jarrar, Palestinian terrorists who murdered 5 Israeli civilians in separate attacks.
(For more information on DCI-P’s new board, see NGO Monitor’s report, “DCI-P’s New Board: Celebrating Terrorists.”)