Advertisement Close

President Obama, Please Create a Special Envoy for Palestinian Children

posted on: May 24, 2016

The Hill

By Brad Parker

The Palestinian population is incredibly young. Children under 18 years old now represent 46 percent of the 4.68 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. They have grown up living  in a situation of prolonged military occupation where Israeli forces enjoy near complete impunity for systematic human rights violations. Recent violence, at least in part, can be attributed to the hopelessness that Palestinian youth feel due to limited future prospects and an unceasingly oppressive and violent military occupation. Israel’s leadership seems more intent than ever to rely on the use of excessive force to manage an unjust, oppressive, and entirely unsustainable military occupation. With no end in sight, there is a dire need for bold U.S. leadership to mitigate any further deterioration.

Last week, U.S. Representative Betty McCollum (MN-04) initiated a letter calling on President Barack Obama to appoint a Special Envoy for Palestinian Children. She declared, “If we are ever going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and find real peace, it is critical that these children grow up with dignity, human rights, and hope for a better future.“

The U.S.-dominated negotiations for a two-state solution have typically demanded peace without justice, enabling successive Israeli governments to pursue and implement policies that crushed the dreams and aspirations of an entire generation. Instead of growing up with a negotiated settlement founded on international law, justice, and respect for human dignity, Palestinian youth have had their futures stifled and suppressed by systemic discrimination, constant settlement expansion, and widespread and systematic use of excessive force.

A Special Envoy for Palestinian Children would create a mechanism that would concretely address a previous request by Rep. McCollum last year when she and 18 other members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary John Kerry, urging him to elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to priority status in the bilateral relationship with the Israeli government. The appointment of a special envoy would send a clear message that the U.S. government is concerned about recent trends involving children.

Amid escalating violence since October 2015, Palestinian children increasingly pay the highest price for Israel’s prolonged military occupation. The number of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons, where according to UNICEF ill-treatment of children is widespread, systematic, and institutionalized from the moment of arrest, has spiked dramatically. While Israeli forces have held an average of 201 Palestinian children in custody each month since 2011, at the end of December, there were 422 Palestinian children in the Israeli prison system. By the end of February the total had increased to 440, the highest number at any given point since the Israel Prison Service began releasing data in 2008.

A recent report by Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) found three-quarters Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank endured some form of physical violence following arrest. In 97 percent of the cases, children had no parent present during the interrogation or access to legal counsel.

In another troubling development, Israeli authorities recently placed 12 Palestinian teenagers under administrative detention. Administrative detention is a process whereby a child is detained without charge or trial, often renewable indefinitely. This is the first time the measure has been used against Palestinian minors in the West Bank in nearly four years, according to DCIP data. No case involving a Palestinian minor had been documented in East Jerusalem since 1967.

In early October, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, promised a “harsh offensive” in response to protests against Israel’s occupation and violence. Seven months later the results are clear. Forty-five Palestinian children from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have been killed since October 1, 2015, all except one at the hands of Israeli forces. Of this number, 36 allegedly carried out stabbing, shooting, or car ramming attacks, according DCIP data.

Attacks against civilians are prohibited by international law and states have the right to protect their citizens from violence. However, international law also requires that intentional lethal force only be used when absolutely unavoidable to protect life, and only when lesser means would be insufficient to apprehend a suspect.

In several cases, DCIP found that children did not pose a direct, mortal threat at the time they were killed, suggesting that Israeli forces are implementing a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, which in some incidents may amount to willful killings. Accountability for shootings by Israeli forces is extremely rare, and Israeli authorities have rejected opening full and transparent investigations into recent incidents.

When asked about the recent Special Envoy proposal on May 6, Assistant Secretary and Department of State Spokesperson John Kirby responded by stating, “[O]bviously, we want to see the kinds of conditions there that can move us forward to a two-state solution, a productive path forward here and leadership on all sides to help us get there, so that children on all sides can live normal, happy, healthy lives.”

The appointment of a Special Envoy would aid in effectively monitoring and responding to the current crisis, promote greater respect for human rights to increase protections for Palestinian children, and work to hold Israeli and Palestinian governments accountable to their obligations under international law.

Respecting and defending the human rights of children, regardless of their ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality is a fundamental American value, and should be a priority for all Americans. Efforts to ensure that Palestinian children’s rights are not abused is in the interest of the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian people.