Demand Child Justice, Everywhere

By Celia Riley 6-26-2018
Image via gnuckx/flickr

A young boy in tears is dragged away by an armed man towering over him, as the desperate cry of his mother is heard; arms frantically reaching for each other in the struggle. The child’s pleas are cut short by a yank of his arm: “Do what we say if you ever want to see your family again.”

As a Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster children, including unaccompanied minors, refugees, and asylum seekers, I took an oath and have a legal obligation to report to authorities anything that I suspect as abuse. The recent images from border control facilities showing unnecessary cruelty used against immigrant children carried out by government officials definitely crosses a line. I have been horrified by these images, but must confess: The public reaction while justified, feels incomplete.

There are plenty of other examples of America’s use of force against foreigners and the policing of others, including children, seen in the stream of media clips from other places where child detention is common occurrence, fully supported and funded by our government, with weapons stamped “Made in the U.S.A.”

The described scene above isn’t one I witness on the border in Texas. It happened in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The United States has contributed to separating families as a “security measure” for decades, financing the forceful removal of Palestinian children from their parents’ arms and into interrogation rooms, often times without charge. Our country has been the single largest contributor to Israel’s detention and prosecution of children by providing $3.8 billion each year to Israel’s defense budget with little transparency or oversight by U.S. officials.

Due to the occupation, Israel prosecutes Palestinians, including children, in military court which lack fundamental fair trial guarantees — the only country in the world to do so. Since 2000, an estimated 8,000-10,000 Palestinian children have been detained. A majority are taken into custody between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., and left outside for hours before the police station opens. By the time interrogation begins, the children have had their hands tied behind their backs and blindfolded for several hours, been given no food or water, and have not been allowed to use the bathroom, which puts the child in a heightened state of terror and vulnerability.

Human Rights Watch has documented that Palestinian children as young as 11 have been subjected to abuse and torture through the use of coercive interrogation, chokeholds, beatings, and solitary confinement. Human rights groups have also reported that 60 percent of minors arrested said they experienced physical violence at the hands of their detainers. Only 10 percent were allowed to see a lawyer and a smaller 5 percent ever saw their parents. After sentencing, nearly 60 percent of child detainees are transferred from the Occupied Territories to prisons inside Israel, which violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. As a consequence of being moved, many children have limited or no family visits while in detention due to the permit requirements and the freedom of movement restrictions imposed on Palestinians.

This is no way to treat a child.

As we express outrage with the accounts taking place on our own border, shouldn’t we also confront the violence of child detention that we are contributing to elsewhere?

It is beyond time to stand up for the human rights of Palestinian children who are mistreated in the Israeli military detention system. Alongside our calls to end the abuse of immigrant children crossing our border, we must also demand that U.S. tax dollars not be used to detain other children with the same brutality.

In November 2017, Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.) introduced a bill, H.R. 4391, to prevent American money being used for the mistreatment of Palestinian children. The bill is simple: It requires the Secretary of State certify that our funds do not support the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children. Several U.S. nonprofits that work on behalf of children and peace in Israel and Palestine, including Defense for Children International-Palestine and Churches for Middle East Peace (full disclosure: I volunteer with this group), are speaking up in support of this bill’s aim to stop the continued trauma inflicted on Palestinian youth in the Israeli system. Yet, for now, it lingers with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, awaiting more support.

If we are to deepen and sustain our current public outcry regarding the children at our border, we must also deepen our understanding of American policies that support violence against children beyond our borders and include them in the conversation. Whether Central and South American immigrants and asylum seekers or Palestinian children, their cries are the same. Families deserve to be together, and free.

Celia Riley is an independent research analyst, and devotes most of her time to advocating for foster, refugee and unaccompanied children.

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