A recently-released US Government human rights report, which includes Israeli violations of international law regarding Palestinian children in 2016, is revealing. According to commentary dated 17 March 2017 by Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), the US Government report “highlights grave violations against Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.” The DCIP commentary follows:
There is a specific section covering the situation of human rights in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) which raises a number of issues related to ill-treatment of Palestinian child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights in Israeli military courts. It notes other grave violations against Palestinian children, including unlawful killing and excessive use of force against them by Israeli forces. A senior US official released the annual report and answered questions by phone, on condition of anonymity. The report noted a “significant increase in detentions of minors” in 2016, and that “Israeli authorities continued to use confessions signed by Palestinian minors, written in Hebrew.” It also highlighted the renewed use of administrative detention [i.e. imprisonment without charge or trial–LB] against Palestinians, including children.
The US Government is well aware of ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian child detainees as well as unlawful killings,” said Khaled Quzmar, DCIP’s General Director. “Until the US Government demands Israeli authorities comply with international law, US authorities are simply enabling abuse and perpetuating injustice against Palestinian children.” The report highlights the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Mahmoud Rafat Badran near the West Bank village of Beit Ur Al-Tahta on 21 June 2016. Six teenage cousins and a driver were in a car heading home around 1:30am after a night of family fun at a swimming pool in the nearby West Bank village of Beit Sira. Israeli soldiers opened fire on them as they drove through an underpass beneath Route 443. Mahmoud Rafat Badran died at the scene. Two of his cousins and the driver were injured.
Omitted from the report was the 26 February 2016 killing of Mahmoud Shaalan, a 16-year-old who held US citizenship. Israeli soldiers shot and killed Mahmoud as he allegedly attempted to stab them at a military checkpoint near Beit El settlement, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah. A witness waiting to cross the checkpoint in his car told DCIP that he saw the teenager approach the soldiers and he did not appear to be carrying a weapon in his hands. He then heard three gunshots and decided to turn his car around, at which point he saw a soldier fire two shots at Mahmoud while he was already on the ground.
Typically, the Secretary of State launches the report and provides brief remarks that highlight specific findings included in the report. However, in a break with precedent, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, did not launch the report on-camera and in person. Each year, the US Department of State drafts and publishes country reports on human rights practices, known as the Human Rights Reports, that cover the situation of human rights in countries around the world. The report is mandated by Congress.
Since 2007, each annual country report on Israel and the OPT has included data and information on ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, denial of fair trial rights in Israeli military courts and other grave violations against children committed by Israeli forces and settlers. In February, DCIP and American Friends Service Committee delivered a petition to the US State Department signed by over 11,000 individuals standing against ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children. The petition, part of the No Way to Treat a Child campaign, urged the Secretary of State to prioritise the human rights of Palestinian children and to hold Israeli authorities accountable for widespread and systematic ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees.