Last Wednesday, Israeli lawmakers legalized the imprisonment of Palestinian children as young as — by their own words — twelve years old.
The new law, passed by legislators as the “Youth Bill,” allows authorities to “imprison a minor convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder or manslaughter even if he or she is under the age of 14,” the Knesset said in a press release.
But the originator of the bill, Anat Berko, was quoted in that same statement as saying that for those who are “murdered with a knife in the heart it does not matter if the child is 12 or 15.”
The law’s passage was immediately criticized, even at home.
“Rather than sending them to prison, Israel would be better off sending them to school where they could grow up in dignity and freedom, not under occupation,” Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said in a statement, adding that, “Imprisoning such minors denies them the chance of a better future.”
The revelation comes at the same time the United Nations Security Council slammed Israel for its treatment of children in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.N., Rafael Ramirez, for instance, stated that Israel “denies Palestinian children their status as minors, and subjects them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
Violence between Palestinians and the IDF — the Israel Defense Forces — has seen a sharp increase since the tail end of 2015 in the Israeli-occupied territories of Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. Concurrently, the number of Palestinian children detained by the IDF has reached record numbers, according to an April report by human rights group Defense for Children International – Palestine.
According to the DCIP report, for instance, three-quarters of detained children spoke of physical abuse while in custody, and in nearly 90 percent of cases, parents weren’t informed of where their children had been taken.
The DCIP findings echo those of UNICEF, who in 2013 published a report which concluded that “ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized.”
In June, a group of 20 concerned Congressman sent a letter to President Obama urging the administration to send a special envoy to Palestine in order to grasp the full scope of the suffering of children under the occupation.
Noting that nearly half of the population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is under the age of 18, the letter states this “enormous youth cohort represents another generation of Palestinian children growing up under military occupation with very few opportunities to improve their lives.”
Apart from the military campaigns Israel periodically wages against Palestine in purported self-defense, much of Palestinian antipathy is rooted in the settler movement, which sees homes and lands razed in the West Bank and Gaza to allow for new domiciles for Israeli citizens.
This activity was found to wholly illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, which concluded in its report that Israeli settlements in Palestine violate one of the Geneva conventions and thus “have been established in breach of international law.”
The U.N. came to similar conclusions in its own 2013 report. Writes The Guardian:
All settlement activity in occupied territory must cease ‘without preconditions’ and Israel ‘must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers,’ said the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Israel, it said, was in violation of article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention, which forbids the transfer of civilian populations to occupied territory.
The U.N. warned Israel it could face charges at the International Criminal Court if it failed to comply, but has since done nothing in the way of enforcement. In the meantime, the destruction of Palestinian homes and businesses continues. As recently as a month ago, the Israeli government approved funding for more settlements.
Despite condemnation from international bodies and human rights groups — for the wars, the treatment of Palestinian youth, the illegal settlements, and, indeed, the occupation itself — the United States continues to support Israel both financially and militarily.
The U.S. already gives Israel $3 billion a year in “security” aid, but as of February, Israel is seeking to up that amount to $5 billion. In July, the White House offered to substantially increase the military aid package to Israel, which already stands at around $30 billion. The bump would bring that number closer to $40 billion — making it “the largest pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history.”
This doesn’t sit well with everyone, however — even some among Israel’s supporters.
Greg Slabodkin, former researcher for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), recently wrote a piecefor The Hill in which he shares his thoughts on how the relationship between the United States and Israel should move forward.
“U.S. aid to the Jewish state should be tied to progress in the peace process and respect for Palestinian human rights,” he said. And he closed the article by stating: “The Obama administration should make it clear that there are strings attached to U.S. aid and that Israel’s failure to comply with a settlement freeze will have financial consequences.”
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