On May 5th, Rep. Betty McCollum introduced the fourth installment of her bi-annual BDS bill, again falsely accusing Israel of harming Palestinian children and calling for reduced US assistance. Like its predecessors, the bill is based on the lobbying and advocacy of Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), a Palestinian NGO designated as a terrorist entity by Israel in 2021 based on ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – a US and EU-designated terror group.
Once again, McCollum’s proposal intentionally and systematically misrepresents international law, and distors Israeli policy and practice. Reflecting the cynical nature of claims to protect the rights of Palestinian children, the bill ignores the involvement of Palestinian minors in terror attacks against Israelis, the incitement that drives them to violence and hatred, and the frequent recruitment and use of children by designated terrorist organizations. The bill also ignores the Palestinian incentive system “Pay to Slay” that provides cash payments to offenders – the greater the offense, the more money received by the offender and his family.
McCollum similarly ignores the substantial efforts Israel has made since 2015 to reform its juvenile justice system and the multiple improvements implemented, including establishment of a juvenile court system, parental notification, translation and recording practices, etc….
Since January 2018, NGO Monitor has identified approximately 90 Palestinian minors killed while engaging in violence against Israelis, including shootings, stabbings, lobbing explosives, Molotov cocktails, and stones, and other violent acts. These include at least 37 teens affiliated with designated terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Lions Den, PFLP, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and other factions.
(For more information, see NGO Monitor’s database of Palestinian teens involved in violent attacks on Israelis, “Excuse and Disregard: Palestinian NGOs on Teens’ Involvement in Terror Attacks and Violent Clashes.”)
Israel’s use of military courts to try Palestinian minors is a violation of international law and human rights standards.
Under the legal paradigm of “occupation” employed by McCollum, the “occupying power” is authorized to establish military courts to try penal offenses (Fourth Geneva Convention, Articles 64-66). There is also no prohibition whatsoever against trying minors for criminal offenses. These provisions are in keeping with international human rights law standards. Moreover, Israel employs military courts for a small subset of security offenses. Pursuant to the Oslo Accords, mutually agreed to with the PLO, the vast majority of crimes committed by Palestinians in the West Bank are adjudicated by the Palestinian courts. Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Gaza arrested for criminal activity are tried in the Israeli civil court system.
The bill cites a 2020 report by the Israeli NGO HaMoked that labels the arrest of Palestinian minors at night as “unlawful.”
There is no law, international or otherwise, prohibiting arrests of minors at night and no law enforcement force employs such a rule, including McCollum’s state of Minnesota. Pointedly, Israeli domestic law provides no protection against night arrests for its own minor citizens.
“The Government of Israel and its military detains around 500 to 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 each year.”
The number of minor detainees fluctuates with the intensity of criminal activity. According to Israeli statistics, only a percentage of arrested individuals are detained during prosecution. Most of these detainees are released shortly after their arrest and/or not prosecuted.
Additionally, since at least 2019, each annual State Department human rights report has recorded a decrease in the number of Palestinian minors detained by Israel, relative to the previous year:
- The 2019 State Department human rights report states, “the monthly average number of minors in detention during the year was down from 2018 and at the lowest since 2014” (emphasis added).
- The 2020 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).
- According to the 2021 report, “According to IPS figures obtained by the MCW, as of September the average number of Palestinian minors in Israeli detention during the year was down 11 percent from 2020. The monthly average of 147 was the lowest since the MCW began keeping records in 2008” (emphasis added).
- As documented in the State Department 2022 report, “Data published quarterly by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) indicate that as of September 30, Israel was detaining 129 Palestinian children ages 12 to 17 in detention facilities for security-related offenses, a decrease of 12 percent compared with 2021” (emphasis added).
Citing to a 2020 Save the Children report, the bill claims Israeli abuse of detained Palestinian minors. This report is based on an anonymous survey.
In October 2020, NGO Monitor published “Save the Children’s Misleading Report on Detention of Palestinians,” detailing the methodological and other failures in this document.
Although presented as a research report, the authors acknowledge that, “Save the Children recognises that it is not a statistically significant or representative sample. As the report intentionally presents children’s experience from their own perspective, it is also important to note that incidents they mention have not been independently verified by Save the Children” (emphases added).
Save the Children completely ignores the most important factors causing violence by Palestinian minors: incitement from Palestinian media, textbooks, and political and religious leaders, as well as a culture of dehumanization, violence, and anti-normalization toward Israelis. The report briefly mentions that “The vast majority of children we consulted (87%) reported feeling like they are a hero for the Palestinian cause.”
In this respect, it is essential to note that Save the Children itself has partnered with Palestinian institutions that incite children to engage in violence. In 2018, Save the Children and the Swedish government conducted a project with the Islamic Jihad-linked Dar al Huda kindergarten in Gaza. In 2018, Dar al Huda’s graduation ceremony featured the mock killing and kidnapping of Israelis by children dressed as combatants. The simulation included sophisticated equipment such as drones, body cameras, military fatigues, body armor, and sniper camouflage. Children wore Islamic Jihad headbands.
Moreover, Save the Children’s report seeks to downplay violence committed by Palestinians teenagers, including throwing stones at Israeli motorists and others.
The bill cites DCI-P in claiming that “under Israeli military law, children do not have the right to a lawyer during interrogation.”
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).
“The 2016 Annual Report on Human Rights Practices of the State Department 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.”
In December 2021, Israel submitted the following statement to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), regarding its use of administrative detention:
- Issuance of administrative detention orders against detainees who pose a danger to public security in the West Bank, in those cases outlined above, is recognized by international law and is in full conformity with Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention 1949.
- Administrative detention is an exceptional measure, applied only where there is clear, concrete and trustworthy evidence that an individual is engaged in acts that endanger the security of the state or human life. It is always used only as a preventative measure of last resort, where the security risk cannot be addressed by other legal means, such as criminal prosecution.
- The respective local legislation in the West Bank grants all relevant security detainees the right to appeal the order to the Military Court of Appeals, for judicial review. Petitioners may be represented by counsel of their choice at every stage of these proceedings and have a right to examine the unclassified evidence against them. All individuals have the additional right to petition the HCJ for a repeal of the order. The judicial organs reviewing each and every order carefully examine whether the criteria outlined in case law and legislation are fully met.
- Detainees are given an explanation of the grounds for the administrative order and have a right to examine the unclassified evidence against them.
- An administrative detention order is limited to a period of six (6) months and its extension requires the reevaluation of the relevant intelligence and enables further judicial review and appeal.
- Between the end of 2016 and August 2018, the number of Palestinian administrative detainees has dropped by 37%.
McCollum’s bill cites a 2018 B’Tselem report to describe the experiences of Palestinians detained by Israel.
Aside from the fact that this report is five years old, it was already partially out-of-date when it was released. As noted in NGO Monitor’s analysis of Rep. McCollum’s 2021 version of this bill, “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.”
The bill cites DCI-P, claiming that “97 percent of the [detained] children did not have a parent present during their investigation.”
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 well-being 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 after being arrested 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.
Regarding demolitions of Palestinian-owned property in Area C of the West Bank, the bill cites data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 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 purport to 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 notes 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 58 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.”