My Turn: By giving military aid to Israel, U.S. is supporting injustice

  • Palestinian youth and children spray each other with water and paint in the narrow streets of Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, last September. The activity was organized by the refugee camp residents to bring joy to the children. AP

For the Monitor
Saturday, April 08, 2017

(Editor’s note: The names of the people in this column have been changed to protect their identities.)

The phone rang at 2 in the morning. Our friend Mafaq said: “Two Israeli military vehicles have come into the village. Soldiers have entered the house of our neighbor and taken away 15-year-old Khaled.” We dressed quickly and hurried through the dimly lit maze of narrow streets to Khaled’s home. A small gathering of men, women and children stood across the street, distancing themselves from the armored military vehicles holding Khaled inside.

We were a World Council of Churches international team of four ecumenical accompaniers living for three months in a farming village 40 kilometers northwest of Jerusalem.

As we approached Khaled’s home, the front door opened. The family clustered around as we entered: mother, father, two young children and a grandfather who leaped from a mat on the floor against the far wall. We were invited to sit on the mat while the grandfather demonstrated what had happened.

Speaking Arabic and greatly agitated, he raced back and forth across the sparsely furnished room showing how the soldiers had forced open the door armed with United States M16 rifles, asked for Khaled, herded the family into the far bedroom, rousted Khaled from sleep in the other bedroom, put him in handcuffs and took him outside to the waiting vehicle while they searched his room, leaving his possessions scattered.

By the time the grandfather had finished his pantomime, tea had been served and the military vehicles had driven away with Khaled. His parents, speaking English, explained the soldiers had refused to give a reason for taking Khaled and would not tell the parents where they were taking him. We sat with them as they vented their helplessness, fear and controlled anger.

We learned later that while we had been listening to this family, a sound bomb had been thrown into a home in another part of the village and another teenage boy had been taken away. These incursions into this Palestinian village in the Israeli occupied Palestinian territory were repeated four times during our three-month stay. They continue in Palestinian villages and refugee camps to this day.

A U.S. State Department report on human rights released in March 2017 highlighted “grave violations against Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.” Among the issues cited were the ill treatment of child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights. Other violations included excessive use of force against children and unlawful killing, use of administrative detention (held without charges) and coercing Palestinian Arabic-speaking children to sign confessions written in Hebrew. The report noted a “significant increase in detention of minors in 2016.”

Between 2012 and 2015, No Way to Treat A Child and the American Friends Service Committee reported that 97 percent of children had no parent present during interrogation or access to legal counsel. Eighty-four percent of children were not informed of their rights. Three-quarters of detained children endured some form of physical violence. “Interrogators used position abuse, threats and isolation to coerce confessions. . . . Sixty-six children were held in solitary confinement, for an average period of 13 days.”

Our experience with Khaled’s family and these human rights reports challenge the relationship between the United States and Israel.

Vice President Mike Pence said on March 31, “President Trump and I stand with Israel . . . because her cause is our cause, her values are our values and her fight is our fight.” This statement is disconnected from the plight of Palestinian children. Our country’s cause is not to inflict military injustice upon children. The Israeli military’s abusive treatment of Palestinian children since 1967 does not reflect our values. The United States’ fight is not against Palestinian children.

Therefore, in order to “stand with Israel,” the United States must negotiate common values to support the relationship, guided by the State Department’s 2017 report on human rights in Israel-Palestine concerning children. Meanwhile, consistent with U.S. values and considering 50 years of continuing violations by Israeli’s military, U.S. senators’ and representatives’ actions should include withholding military aid to Israel until acceptable uses are defined.

The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act supports such action. It states that no assistance will be furnished to “any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the secretary of state has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

With its over $3 billion a year in military aid to Israel, the United States is complicit in the military injustices inflicted on Palestinian children. Before any more aid is given, the Israeli military must cease human rights violations, ensure basic due process rights, and establish an absolute prohibition against torture and the ill treatment of detained Palestinian children.

Requiring these actions is not only consistent with our own values and sense of justice but also supportive to the many Jews and Israelis who are speaking out against the Israeli military’s unjust treatment of children in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The “phone” still rings since I’ve returned to my home in Concord. We still receive posts on Facebook from Palestinian friends, such as, “Last night the Israeli military came into our village at 3 a.m. and took away two of the children.”

As Jews, Muslims and Christians, we need to support our leaders’ efforts to withhold military aid to Israel until the military no longer perpetrates fear and hopelessness against desperate Palestinians crying out for justice. Then, perhaps, the next communication from a Palestinian will be the joy of a great olive harvest or the success of the youth volleyball team.

(John Buttrick lives in Concord.)