On November 14, 2017, 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.” Notably, McCollum’s press release highlighted the endorsement of several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – including American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty International USA, Center for Constitutional Rights, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), and Jewish Voice for Peace; all are leaders of BDS campaigns in the US and internationally. In addition, DCI-P has alleged links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization. DCI-P board members Shawan Jabarin, Nassar Ibrahim, and Dr. Majed Nassar all have alleged affiliations with PFLP, and Hashem Abu Maria, a DCI-P employee, was hailed by PFLP as a “commander” after his 2014 death. The PFLP is proscribed as a terror organization by the United States, Canada, Australia, the European Union, and Israel.
NGO Monitor research reveals that the NGO involvement in this legislation runs more deeply than endorsement from BDS NGOs. As the following analysis shows, the entirety of the proposed bill is premised on factually inaccurate claims from anti-Israel advocacy NGOs, including direct quotes from DCIP’s “No Way to Treat a Child” 2016 report and website. The sections that reference reports from the US State Department and UNICEF originate with these same NGOs (although McCollum’s office selectively quotes, hiding the origins).
NGOs behind the Legislation (in the order of appearance in the bill):1
Quote (para.2): “In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, there are two separate legal systems, with Israeli military law imposed on Palestinians and Israeli civilian law applied to Israeli settlers.”
NGO Source/Analysis: This is almost a direct quote taken from DCI-P’s “No Way to Treat a Child” website: “Since 1967, Israel has operated two separate legal systems in the same territory. In the occupied West Bank, Israeli settlers are subject to the civilian and criminal legal system whereas Palestinians live under military law.”
This statement 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 applied by McCollum to the West Bank would require the same framework. Ethnicity is irrelevant.
It is also ironic that the legislation decries Israel for not applying Israeli domestic law to West Bank Palestinians. If Israel were to apply its domestic laws to Palestinian residents in the West Bank, the NGOs relied upon by McCollum would accuse Israel of illegally annexing the territory.
Quote (para. 3): “The Israeli military detains around 500 to 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 each year and prosecutes them before a military court system that lacks basic and fundamental guarantees of due process in violation of international standards.”
NGO Source/Analysis: This is almost a direct quote taken from DCI-P’s “No Way to Treat a Child” website: “Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year.” The additional details are from the 2013 UNICEF report (see below), “Each year approximately 700 Palestinian children aged 12 to 17, the great majority of them boys, are arrested, interrogated and detained by Israeli army, police and security agents.”
According to international law and the occupation paradigm that the draft legislation applies to the West Bank, Israel is required to “restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order” and safety. This same law, again the law that McCollum and the NGOs claim are binding, requires Israel to create Military Courts (Fourth Geneva Convention, Art. 66). As a result, Palestinian minors residing in the West Bank can only be prosecuted by these courts and according to the jurisdictional parameters agreed to in the Oslo Accords. That other countries do not adhere to the applicable international law in other conflict zones is a reflection on those countries, not Israel, as claimed in the legislation and by the NGOs it is copied from.
In addition, the recitation of the average number of prisoners held each month is a meaningless statistic. Without any information relating to the involvement of Palestinian minors in criminal and terrorist activity, no informed conclusion can be made based on such an “average.” Clearly, if there is an increase of minors committing violent crimes, there will be a corresponding increase in the number of minors held in custody.
Quote (para.4): “Approximately 2,700,000 Palestinians live in the West Bank, of which around 47 percent are children under the age of 18, who live under military occupation, the constant fear of arrest, detention, and violence by the Israeli military, and the threat of recruitment by armed groups.”
Analysis: Based on this figures provided, there are approximately 1.27 million Palestinian minors living in the West Bank. If we take the maximal number from paragraph 3 (that Israel arrests 700 children annually), this amounts to miniscule amount of 0.055% of Palestinian minors who are actually arrested. In contrast, there are more than 1 million (1.42%) juveniles arrested in the US annually, and without the context of armed conflict. Therefore, these statistics do not point to Israel unreasonably targeting Palestinian minors.
Quote (para.5): Since 2000, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli security forces in the West Bank and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system.
NGO Source/Analysis: This appears to be an update of information from DCI-P’s “No Way to Treat a Child” report: “Since 2000, Israeli military authorities have detained, interrogated, prosecuted, and imprisoned around 8,500 Palestinian children, according to DCIP estimates.” Again, in comparison, tens of millions of children have been detained in the US during that same time period.
Quote (para.6): Children under the age of 12 cannot be prosecuted in Israeli military courts. However, Israeli military forces detain children under the age of 12 and question them, for several hours, before releasing them to their families or to Palestinian authorities.
NGO Source/Analysis: This is a direct quote taken from DCI-P’s 2016 “No Way to Treat a Child” report: “Children under the age of 12 cannot be prosecuted in the military courts. However, Israeli forces often detain children under 12 and question them for several hours before releasing them to their families or Palestinian authorities.”
It is interesting to note that the age of criminal responsibility in the US is 11. Minors under the age of criminal responsibility are not immune from arrest for committing offences, in particular violent offences such as murder and attempted murder. Moreover, at the time of arrest, the relevant arresting officer may not be immediately aware of the age of the suspect.
Quote (para.7): “Human Rights Watch documented, in a July 2015 report titled ‘’Israel: Security Forces Abuse Palestinian Children’’, that such detentions also included the use of chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation on children between the ages of 11 and 15 years.”
NGO Source/Analysis: Human Rights Watch’s 2015 report “Israel: Security Forces Abuse Palestinian Children” also has the subtitle “chokeholds, beatings, coercive interrogations.” Contrary to HRW’s claims which offer a few unverified anecdotes without any comparative data, in carrying out their duties, Israeli Security Forces may only use reasonable force. The use of excessive force by Israeli Security Forces, including beatings is forbidden. If complaints of this nature are actually submitted to the relevant authorities and found to be justified, the perpetrators are dealt with accordingly. According to Israel laws of evidence, that are also applied as is in the military court, a confession must be given freely and willingly. Confessions coerced from the suspects will be excluded by the courts.
Quote (para.8 & 9): “The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) concluded, in a February 2013 report… that the ‘‘ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized… The 2013 UNICEF report further determines that the Israeli system of military detention of Palestinian children profoundly deviates from international norms…”
NGO Source/Analysis: As NGO Monitor has thoroughly documented, UNICEF’s 2013 report is almost entirely based on claims from DCIP and its partner NGOs. This publication has been discredited for its complete distortion of international law and of rudimentary criminal law concepts and procedures.
Quote (para.10): “UNICEF also released reports in October 2 2013 and February 2015 noting that Israeli authorities have, since March 2013, issued new military orders and taken steps to reinforce existing military 5 and police standard operating procedures relating to the detention of Palestinian children. However, the reports still found continued and persistent evidence of ill-treatment of Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces.”
NGO Source/Analysis: After Israeli officials rejected almost every claim in the 2013 UNICEF report, UNICEF issued a follow-up in 2015 integrating some of Israel’s comments. Yet, UNICEF has not publicly retracted the several erroneous sections of the 2013 report, and as a result, other UN bodies, as well as parliaments and NGOs continue to cite these false allegations.
Quote (para. 11): “In 2013, the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the Occupied Territories (‘Annual Report’) published by the Department of State noted that Israeli security services continued to abuse, and in some cases torture, minors, frequently arrested on suspicion of stone-throwing, in order to coerce confessions. The torture tactics used included threats, intimidation, long-term handcuffing, beatings, and solitary confinement.”
NGO Source/Analysis: While suggesting that the US State Department made a positive finding, in actuality, the Annual Report merely states, “Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine), Breaking the Silence, and other human rights NGOs claimed that Israeli security services continued to abuse, and in some cases torture, minors who they frequently arrested on suspicion of stone throwing to coerce confessions. Tactics included beatings, long-term handcuffing, threats, intimidation, and solitary confinement” (emphasis added).
Quote (para. 12): “The 2013 Annual Report also stated that ‘signed confessions by Palestinian minors, written in Hebrew, a language most could not read, continued to be used as evidence against them in Israeli military courts.’”
NGO Source/Analysis: Again, the context of the 2013 State Department report reflects that this quote was simply repeating a claim made by NGOs rather than issuing a positive finding. This conclusion is further supported by the 2016 US State Department report, which specifically attributes this claim to NGOs.
Furthermore, DCI-P made a similar claim regarding confessions being drafted in Hebrew in their 2016 report. However, in reality, interrogations are conducted in Arabic, and when the statement of the suspect is documented in Hebrew, the interrogation must be audio or audio-visually recorded in order for an indictment to be submitted to the court.
Quote (para.13): “The 2016 [State Department] Annual Report noted a ‘‘significant increase in detentions of minors’’ in 2016, and that ‘‘Israeli authorities continued to use confessions signed by Palestinian minors, written in Hebrew.’’ It also highlighted the renewed use of ‘‘administrative detention’’ against Palestinians, including children, a practice in which a detainee may be held indefinitely, without charge or trial, by the order of a military commander or other government official..”
NGO Source/Analysis: 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 once again 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.
Similarly, the quote about confessions is truncated. The full quote is, “NGOs reported that Israeli authorities continued to use confessions signed by Palestinian minors, written in Hebrew… (emphasis added).
Finally, the claim regarding administrative detention is doubly misleading. One, the State Department notes that administrative detention was used against both Palestinians and Israelis, including 19 Palestinian minors and 11 Israeli minors (see page 13 of State Department Annual Report). Two, as opposed to the 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.”
Quote (para.14): “The nongovernmental organization Defense for Children International Palestine collected affidavits from 429 West Bank children who were detained between 2012 and 2015, and concluded that….”
NGO Source/Analysis: NGO Monitor’s detailed analysis of DCI-P’s publication demonstrates that this NGO manipulatively and deliberately creates a false narrative regarding Palestinian children committing criminal offenses. Close inspection of their claims, material omissions, and distorted statistics demonstrates that this NGO disseminates propaganda, and not credible human rights research.
Quote (para.15): “Amendments to Israeli military law concerning the detention of Palestinian children have had little to no impact on the treatment of children during the first 24 to 48 hours after an arrest, when the majority of their ill-treatment occurs.”
NGO Source/Analysis: This is almost a direct quote taken from DCI-P’s “No Way to Treat a Child” website: “Recent amendments to Israeli military law concerning children have had little to no impact on their treatment during the first 24 to 48 hours after an arrest, when most of the ill-treatment occurs at the hands of Israeli soldiers, police, and the security service.”
Since the claims of ill-treatment are unfounded, there is no relevance to the initial periods of arrest proscribed by law.
Quote (para.16): “In 2002, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, reviewed Israel’s compliance with the Convention and expressed serious concern regarding ‘‘allegations and complaints of inhuman or degrading practices and of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children’’ during arrest, interrogation, and detention.”
NGO Source/Analysis: This appears to be taken from DCI-P’s 2016 “No Way to Treat a Child” report: “During its initial review in 2002, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN body that monitors implementation of the CRC, expressed serious concern regarding “allegations and complaints of inhuman or degrading practices and of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children” during arrest, interrogation, and detention.” In addition to the unverified nature of the claims, they are more than fifteen years old and ignore the many improvements and reforms relating to juvenile justice in both the civilian and military courts.
Quote (para.17): “In 2013, the [United Nations] Committee [on the Rights of the Child] declared that Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces ‘‘continue to be systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture”.”
NGO Source/Analysis: The quote provided is a close paraphrase of DCI-P’s submission to the Committee, alleging “a pattern of systematic ill-treatment emerges, much of which amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and in some cases, torture…” Again, the Committee did not verify the claims of DCI-P but merely repeated them uncritically.
Further Distortions in the Bill
Quote (Sec. 4 Sense of Congress 1): “It is the sense of Congress that the detention and prosecution of Palestinian children in a military court system by the Government of Israel (1) violates international law and internationally recognized standards of human rights;”
Analysis: The detention and prosecution of Palestinian minors in military courts does not violate international law or recognized standards. Israel’s practices are well based on both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1907 Hague Rules and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Quote (Sec. 4 Sense of Congress 2): …is contrary to the values of the American people and the efforts of the United States to support equality, human rights, and dignity for both Palestinians and Israelis; (3) undermines efforts by the United States to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians;
Analysis: It is unclear why the detention and prosecution of Palestinian minors who commit violent offences, including murder and attempted murder, even of American citizens, is “contrary to the values of the American people” or in any way contradicts the US support of equality or human rights. The opposite is true: promoting immunity for terrorism, simply because the attacker is a Palestinian and the victim a Jew, breaches the very moral fiber of American values, promotes inequality, and ignores the basic human rights of the victims of these crimes. It is similarly unclear why the detention and prosecution of Palestinian minors who commit violent offences undermine the efforts of the US to achieve a just and lasting peace. Here too, the opposite is true: condoning and promoting impunity for Palestinian minors who commit violent terrorist attacks would only increase the frequency of these attacks, which would in turn, be severely detrimental to promoting any peace effort.
Quote: (Sec. 4 Sense of Congress 4): “Should be terminated and replaced with a juvenile justice system in which Israeli authorities do not discriminate between the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian children and that adheres to internationally recognized standards of human rights and obligations.”
Analysis: Israeli authorities do not discriminate between Israelis and Palestinians in their treatment children, and it is false to claim so. Similarly, Israel’s juvenile justice system fully adheres to international recognized standards of human rights and obligations. The claim that West Bank Palestinians and Israeli citizens and residents should be subject to exactly the same law would breach international law and reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of the concept of jurisdiction. Were Israel to apply its domestic law to West Bank Palestinians as the McCollum legislation demands, this would amount to the annexation of the West Bank. It is clear that this is not the stated policy of the United States. In addition, this section of the legislation would clearly violate the Oslo Accords, witnessed and guaranteed by the United States, which regulates the jurisdiction of Israel and the Palestinian Authority
Quote (Sec. 6 PROHIBITION a): “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds authorized to be appropriated for assistance to Israel may be used to support 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: (1) Torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. (2) Physical violence, including restraint in stress positions. (3) Hooding, sensory deprivation, death threats, or other forms of psychological abuse.”
Analysis: Since Israel does not use any of the practices mentioned, there would be no impediment for the Secretary of State to issue such a certification.
Quote (Sec. 6. PROHIBITION a.4) “…Incommunicado detention or solitary confinement.”
Analysis: Since Israel does not use any of the practices mentioned, there would be no impediment for the Secretary of State to issue such a certification.
Quote: (Sec. 6. PROHIBITION a.5): “…Administrative detention, as described in section 2(13).”
Analysis: Contrary to the implication of the legislation, administrative detention is well recognized in international law (art. 78 GCIV) and is also used by the US. Furthermore, there is no restriction in international law regarding the use of administrative detention against minors. As previously noted, the McCollum legislation distorts the findings of the US State Department. Administrative detention is used only in exceptional cases when the person placed in administrative detention poses a real and immediate threat to public security. As regards minors, the instrument is used (against both Israelis and Palestinians) to prevent them from carrying out terrorist attacks that endanger lives. Since Israel’s use of administrative detention complies with international law, and since the arrest of persons who are suspected of being directly involved in imminent terror attacks supports the efforts of America to reach a just and lasting peace, it is unclear why this stipulation has been made.
Quote(Sec.6. PROHIBITION a.6) “Denial of access to parents or legal counsel during interrogations.”
Analysis: Under Israeli law, Israeli minors under arrest do not have the right to have a parent present during their interrogation. This same principle is applied to Palestinian minors. Since a previous suggestion of the legislation was to ensure equal treatment of Israelis and Palestinians, it is unclear why the section of the legislation would promote discrimination against Israeli citizens, conferring preferential rights only to Palestinian offenders. It is most strange that the McCollum legislation includes this provision given that many jurisdictions in the United States also apply the same rule.
Quote (Sec.6. PROHIBITION a.7) “Confessions obtained by force or coercion.”
Analysis: This section of the proposed legislation implies that Israel obtains confessions by force or coercion. This is simply false. The rules of evidence applied in the Israeli military courts are exactly the same as the rules of evidence applied in the Israeli domestic courts. According to these rules, confessions that were not given freely and willingly can be excluded as evidence by a judge and serve as the basis for an acquittal. As in any jurisdiction, there may be instances where the rules are violated, but this legislation offensively implies that such behavior is condoned by the law enforcement establishment in Israel. On principle, the application of this section of the proposed legislation only to Israel reflects selective targeting and setting a specific and different standard only for Israel.
The double standards and false claims throughout the proposed McCollum legislation and systematically addressed in this document is indicative of the influence of BDS and terror-linked NGOs in the policy making process.
- For additional substantive analysis of the false and misleading claims contained in the legislation, see NGO Monitor’s reports: “No Way to Represent a Child: Defense for Children International – Palestine’s Distortions of the Israeli Justice System,” “The Origins of ‘No Way to Treat a Child’: Analyzing UNICEF’s Report on Palestinian Minors,” and “Addameer: The PFLP’s Network’s Prisoner Advocacy Wing.”