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On this World Children’s Day, faith leaders called for passage of the “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act” in the US Congress.  HR 2407, sponsored by Rep Betty McCollum, is currently before the House of Representatives. Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) hosted this Congressional briefing which brought faith leaders together with members of Congress and congressional staff on the morning of November 20.  

Palestinian girl, Deheishe Refugee Camp near Bethlehem

“Today we’re gathered here to discuss a completely preventable, completely disruptive and completely immoral practice,” began Rep. McCollum. “It’s inflicting abuse, torture, and trauma on children. And it is the Israeli state-sponsored system, the military detention of Palestinian children, children who are already living every day of their lives under an oppressive military occupation.”

Rep. McCollum described how she came to understand the plight of children in the Occupied Territories.  “Four years ago, people in this room brought this issue to my attention. I did not know this was happening. But once I learned about the night raids, the forced confessions, the trauma inflicted on thousands of Palestinian children, some as young as eight, 9, or 10 years old… Once I knew about it, I could not turn away.”

The United Nations states that World Children’s Day was first established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day and is celebrated on November 20 each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.

Kyle Cristofalo, CMEP’s Director of Advocacy and Government Relations, said “For there to be any hope for a just and lasting end to the conflict in Israel/Palestine, all children, including Palestinians, must live without fear of military detention. Congress has a responsibility to ensure US policy reflects values that prioritize concern for the most vulnerable. We call on Rep. McCollum’s congressional colleagues to cosponsor this critical legislation.”

The No Way to Treat a Child Campaign, a project of Defense for Children International – Palestine and the American Friends Service Committee, describes the current reality: “Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes children in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections. Israeli military authorities prosecute an estimated 500 to 700 Palestinian children in military courts each year. Nearly three out of four Palestinian children experience some form of physical violence after arrest.”

Bishop Thomas Aiken of the northeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America told of his experience in Hebron, “As we were leaving, a youth was throwing some pebbles and was shot in the leg. When you’re there on the ground, your heart really gets transformed. Data is one thing, but to be there and to see the situation is an entirely different thing.”

HR 2407 amends Section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2378d) commonly known as the ‘‘Leahy Law’’ by adding a new subsection that includes a generally applicable limitation prohibiting U.S. military aid from being used by foreign armed forces to support the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of children in violation of international humanitarian law.

The National Council of Churches is a partner with Churches for Middle East Peace.  Tony Kireopoulos, NCC Associate General Secretary, serves on its board of directors.