On November 14, 2017, Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced the Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act. The act is “to prevent the use of the United States tax dollars for the Israeli military’s ongoing detention and mistreatment of Palestinian children,” said McCollum.
The bill, H.R. 4391, is the first pro-Palestinian legislation in Congress.
“Congress must not turn a blind eye to the unjust and ongoing mistreatment of Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation,” McCollum added.
Palestinian children routinely suffer from Israeli mistreatment and detention, but their suffering receives little attention in the American press, let alone Congress, especially amidst a surge of state and federal anti-Palestinian solidarity legislation, such as the anti-BDS laws enacted in 23 states since 2014.
McCollum’s bill has nine Democratic cosponsors, including the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI). Whether McCollum’s effort will gain enough support with the rest of the Democratic caucus, or see a Democratic Senator introduce its equal in the Senate, remains to be seen.
McCollum is no stranger to supporting Palestinian children. In 2015 and 2016 she led several colleagues in calling on President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to “elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority status in our bilateral relationship with the Government of Israel.” While the likelihood of passing the bill is slim, its mere introduction reflects the growing activism of grassroots solidarity with Palestine. At a time when Congress continues to shut out Palestinian testimony and voices, a host of human rights organizations represented at the bill’s announcement reveal a turning point in how Palestinian issues are addressed in Congress.
— Rep. Betty McCollum (@BettyMcCollum04) November 15, 2017
Such historic legislation did not escape attention on social media. Pro-Palestinian users celebrated a momentous development that finally saw a member of Congress loudly rebuke the pro-Israel lobby, which often appears to have a choke hold on congressional conduct regarding Palestine.
A first for Palestinian rights in the U.S.: Congresswoman McCollum introduces Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act. It would prevent US aid from going to Israeli military's abuse of Palestinian children https://t.co/BtNMX233qn pic.twitter.com/18cQRDqYom
— Alex Kane (@alexbkane) November 14, 2017
The Intercept’s Ziad Jilani observed the bill comes at a time when “polls show that Democratic-leaning voters are increasingly sympathetic to Palestinians; more self-identified liberal Democrats now tell pollsters they are more sympathetic to Palestinians than they are to Israel.”
Every year 100s of Palestinian kids as young as twelve years old are detained by Israel's military courts. Many are beaten, sleep deprived, and almost all are denied access to a lawyer or parent during interrogation. https://t.co/6OC1o6umfo
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) November 14, 2017
In an e-mail announcement The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights encouraged its members to contact their representatives and urge them “to sponsor this bill to safeguard Palestinian children.”
Is your representative part of the historic Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act? If they are, thank them and if they aren’t, encourage them to sign on! https://t.co/wVZRaEHzxB pic.twitter.com/kUoFNIIxlG
— Palestinian Rights (@US_Campaign) November 14, 2017
Nonetheless, it is likely that the pro-Israel lobby will put tremendous pressure on the cosponsors to redact their names and urge other representatives not to sign the bill.
The conversation on human rights abuses in the occupied territories is a growing moral force in the Jewish community, led primarily by young Jews who are inspired by the commitment and dedication of Palestinian activists such as Human Rights Defender Issa Amro, whose repeated arrests by the Palestinian Authority and Israel recently prompted congressional action.
— Issa Amro عيسى عمرو (@Issaamro) November 15, 2017
Others hailed McCollum’s bill using the hashtag #NoWayToTreatAChild, which is a joint project of Defense for Children International – Palestine and the American Friends Service Committee.
— Dr. Not Your T*oken (@tjjourian) November 15, 2017
— Defense for Children (@DCIPalestine) November 16, 2017
— #nowaytotreatachild (@nwttac) November 16, 2017
Congress has seen critics of Israel and defenders of Palestinian rights before, but none matched McCollum’s historic act. While this momentum is significant, as JPS Editor and IPS Senior Fellow Rashid Khalidi observed, “we are only at the beginning of the path toward full equality, self-determination, civil rights, security, and economic well-being for Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike.”