GA-1719

(Sense-of-the-Assembly)

 A CALL FOR THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH (DISICPLES OF CHRIST) TO ADVOCATE FOR THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN LIVING UNDER ISRAELI MILITARY OCCUPATION

Download PDF

WHEREAS, the witness of Scripture grants children a privileged place in the embrace of Jesus and the vision of the beloved community, and Jesus welcomed children and blessed them; he called us to become childlike in our reception of the Realm of God.[1]  Jesus himself was born in Palestine under Roman Occupation and, according to Matthew’s Gospel, escaped the slaughter of innocents by becoming a refugee in Egypt before returning to the land of his birth where he came of age.[2]  To read the Gospels is to become aware of both the blessing and the vulnerability of children. It is to know that God’s love was revealed in a child and, in particular, a child vulnerable to injustice and violence; and

WHEREAS, Kairos Palestine, written by Palestinian Christian theologians in 2009 and commended to the churches by the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in a Pastoral Letter (April 2010), reminds us that “the communion of love says to every believer in spirit and in truth: if my brother is a prisoner I am a prisoner; if his home is destroyed, my home is destroyed; when my brother is killed, then I too am killed.”[3] Discipleship calls for solidarity with the vulnerable and the oppressed; and

WHEREAS, the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has repeatedly called for a just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, for an end to prolonged Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, for the upholding of principles of non-violence, for the protection of human rights and for a just peace in Israel/Palestine where all peoples, both Israeli and Palestinians can live in freedom, equality and dignity; and

WHEREAS, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the State of Israel has ratified, calls on states to “Treat every child deprived of liberty with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age,” to use arrest and imprisonment of children “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time,” to give detained children “prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty” and “the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits,” and in no case to subject children to “torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,”[4]; and

WHEREAS, UNICEF in 2013 determined that the “Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized” and that this ill-treatment of children includes the use of blindfolds, hand-ties, strip searches, physical violence, verbal abuse and intimidation, denial of access to lawyers and parents prior to and during interrogation, and failure to inform children of their legal rights, such as their right to remain silent[5]; and

WHEREAS, subsequent update reports to UNICEF’s 2013 report have found that the situation has changed little for Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank[6][7]; and

WHEREAS, the United States Department of State in its annual country reports on human rights practices has, since 2007 in each annual country report on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 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; and

WHEREAS, Defense for Children International – Palestine and other international, Palestinian, and Israeli human rights organizations regularly publish reports confirming Israel’s widespread and systematic ill-treatment of Palestinian children arrested in the occupied West Bank, ill-treatment which includes heavily armed Israeli soldiers invading children’s homes and arresting them in the middle of the night; failure to notify parents of the reason for arrest or the location of detention; denial of access to lawyers during interrogation; failure to inform children of their rights; the use of position abuse, threats, and isolation by interrogators to coerce confessions; the use of solitary confinement for interrogation purposes; acceptance of confessions obtained by coercion or torture as legal courtroom evidence, even those confessions written in Hebrew and not understood by children coerced into signing them; and the routine transfer of Palestinian children out of the occupied Palestinian territories to prisons inside Israel in violation of international law[8]; and

WHEREAS, Israeli forces have held an average of 201 Palestinian children in custody each month since 2011, and this number spiked dramatically in late 2015 so that by the end of February 2016 the total had increased to 440, the highest number at any given point since the Israel Prison Service began releasing data in 2008[9]; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act specifies that no military assistance be given to any country that “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violation of internationally recognized human rights” and on at least eleven previous occasions the U.S. has withheld assistance from countries based on their human rights violations[10]; and

WHEREAS, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) supported the ecumenical calls of Oct. 5, 2012, to request that Congress hold Israel accountable to the US Foreign Assistance Act and US Arms Export Control Act[11] and in May 5, 2016, urged the US to cease all arms allocations and transfers to the Middle East[12];

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, meeting in Indianapolis, July 8-12, 2017, calls on members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to learn about the plight of children in Palestine and the State of Israel; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2017 General Assembly calls on the government of the United States to adhere to its own established law – in this case, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act – by withholding military assistance from the State of Israel due to its practices of arrest and detention of Palestinian children, requiring Israel to guarantee basic due process rights and exercise an absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment of detained children, ensuring that, from the moment of arrest, all operations and procedures are carried out in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and that the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) communicate this call to the United States Congress, as well as the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State of the United States; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2017 General Assembly calls on the United States Senate to join with 194 other nations in ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child so as to bring stronger international pressure to bear on Israel to comply with the Convention’s provisions, in particular Articles 37 and 40 of the Convention governing the treatment of children held in detention and requests the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) communicate this call to the United States Senate, as well as the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State of the United States; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2017 General Assembly calls on the State of Israel to guarantee basic due process rights and exercise an absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment of detained children, ensuring that, from the moment of arrest, all operations and procedures are carried out in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and requests the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to communicate this call to the Prime Minister of Israel and the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, noting that among the practices in Israel’s military detention system that require change are the use of nighttime arrests in the child’s home, physical and verbal abuse, blindfolds and restraints, strip searches, solitary confinement, coerced confessions and confessions written in Hebrew, as well as the separation of detained children from their parents and legal counselors (including the transfer of Palestinian children to prisons within the State of Israel that their parents are not permitted to visit); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 2017 General Assembly expresses gratitude to Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ for its advocacy on behalf of children in Palestine and the State of Israel; and

FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that the 2017 General Assembly encourages continued partnership with U.S. and global ecumenical and interfaith partners, as well as with Palestinian and Israeli organizations that are advocating for the rights of children and providing educational, social, and psychological support for children and their families adversely affected by the occupation.

Division of Overseas Ministries

 

Background and Biblical Grounding

Kairos Palestine, written by Palestinian Christian theologians in 2009 and commended to the churches by the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in a Pastoral Letter (April 2010), reminds us that “the communion of love says to every believer in spirit and in truth: if my brother is a prisoner I am a prisoner; if his home is destroyed, my home is destroyed; when my brother is killed, then I too am killed.”[13] Discipleship requires solidarity with the vulnerable and the oppressed.

As Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip enter their 50th year under Israeli military occupation, instability and violence continue to define much of life for Palestinian children. While living under prolonged military occupation causes suffering to all Palestinians, the plight of children is of particular concern in light of the persistent grave human rights violations and violence that surround them and the physical and emotional trauma to which they are subject.  Generations of children have come of age as refugees living in refugee camps and behind walls.[14] Generations of children have waited at checkpoints to go to school and return home.[15] Generations of children have witnessed Israeli soldiers, many themselves young, harass and humiliate their parents.  Generations of children have witnessed the demolition of their families’ homes or businesses, theft of their land, or the destruction of their families’ farms and orchards.[16] Generations of children have been arrested by Israeli forces and prosecuted in an Israeli military detention system notorious for the systematic and widespread ill-treatment of children.[17]

Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes children in military courts.  Since the year 2000, over 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in this system.[18]

In April 2016, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) published a study of 429 West Bank children detained between 2012 and 2015.  Three out of four children had endured some form of physical violence after being detained by Israeli forces.  In 97 percent of the cases, children had no parent or lawyer present during the interrogation process.  Interrogators used position abuse, threats, or isolation to coerce confessions from some of these children.  At least 66 children were held in solitary confinement for an average period of 13 days.  One child was held in isolation for 45 days.[19] Most often, they are accused of throwing stones, but many times, the charges are never made public.

In addition, there are several indirect acts of violence that children suffer.  According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), some 48,000 Palestinian houses have been demolished in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem since 1967, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless,[20] including children. This situation has left devastating physical, psychological effects on children, which are irreversible.

Almost 60% of the population living in the West Bank and Gaza are refugees. More than half of them live in refugee camps. Since 1967, these refugee camps have been target for Israeli army operations that include the use of gas bombs, tear gas, and the harassment and arrest of men, women and children. Sometimes, families spend days looking for their children in detention centers. During this time, the violence that children face is horrendous, and much of that is not even officially reported because these are not formal prisons that are officially monitored.

Since 1967, Israel has operated two separate legal systems in the same territory.  Israeli Jewish settlers who (in violation of international law) reside in the West Bank enjoy protections provided by the Israeli civilian legal system.  In contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Israeli military law, which fails to ensure and, in fact, denies basic and fundamental rights.  Palestinian children in the West Bank thus suffer abuses and constraints of a military detention system which no Israeli child living in the West Bank ever experiences.

The occupation thus creates a system where Palestinians living in the same occupied territory as Israeli settlers have inferior rights and protections under the law – a system where Palestinian children experience an environment of fear, dehumanization and violence that is contradictory to the flourishing of life in a nurturing environment, including opportunities to play safely, to access education and health care, to which all children, including Palestinian and Israeli children, aspire.

The witness of Scripture grants children a privileged place in the embrace of Jesus and the vision of the beloved community.  Jesus welcomed children and blessed them; he called us to become childlike in our reception of the Realm of God.[21] Jesus himself was born in Palestine under Roman Occupation and, according to Matthew’s Gospel, escaped the slaughter of innocents by becoming a refugee in Egypt before returning to the land of his birth where he came of age.[22] To read the Gospels is to become aware of both the blessing and the vulnerability of children.    It is to know that God’s love was revealed in a child and, in particular, a child vulnerable to injustice and violence.

Justice and peace are impeded today by those who hide behind a false equivalency, refusing to acknowledge the gross imbalance of military and police power between Israelis and Palestinians, or refusing to recognize that the impact of occupation falls with greater weight on the occupied, not the occupier. Justice and peace are impeded today by those who, in the face of failed peace processes and seemingly intractable obstacles, grow resigned and indifferent, as if God were impotent and historical change impossible.  To those lacking vision or energy to pursue this issue of justice, Kairos Palestine responds, “In the absence of hope, we cry out our cry of hope.  We believe in God, good and just.  We believe that God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persist in our land.”[23]

Notes:

 [1] Matthew 18:1-5; Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-15

[2] Matthew 2:1-23

[3]  Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth, A Word of Faith, Hope and Love from Palestinian Suffering, 2009, par. 5.2,  Kairos Palestine – A Moment of Truth

[4]  United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 37, U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child

[5]  UNICEF, Children in Israeli Military Detention – Observations and Recommendations – 6 March 2013, Children in Israeli Military Detention – Observations and Recommendations – 6 March 2013

[6]  UNICEF, Children in Military Detention – Bulletin No. 1 – October 2013, UNICEF oPt Children in Military Detention – Bulletin No. 1 – October 2013

[7]  UNICEF, Children in Israeli Military Detention – Observations and Recommendations – Bulletin No. 2 – February 2015, UNICEF oPt Children in Israeli Military Detention – Observations and Recommendations – Bulletin No. 2 – February 2015

[8]  Defense for Children International – Palestine, No Way to Treat a Child, Palestinian Children in the  Israeli Military Detention System, 14 April 2016,  Palestinian Children in the Israeli Military Detention System

[9] Defense of Children International – Palestine, Detention Bulletin – April 2016, publ. August 8, 2016,  Detention Bulletin – April 2016

[10] U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, U.S. Military Aid to Israel: Policy Implications and Options, March 2012,  http://uscpr.org/campaign/government-affairs/resources/military-aid-policy-paper/ [11]  Oct. 5, 2012 Ecumenical Letter to Congress http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/globalministries/legacy_url/7495/Military-aid-to-Israel-Oct-1-Final.pdf?1419969549

[12] “U.S. Diplomacy, not arms sales, needed in Middle East,” http://www.globalministries.org/u_s_diplomacy_not_arms_sales_needed_in_middle_east

[13]  Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth, A Word of Faith, Hope and Love from Palestinian Suffering, 2009, par. 5.2,  Kairos Palestine – A Moment of Truth

[14] United Nations Relief and Works Agency, multiple reports,  U.N. Relief and Works Agency

[15] U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Occupied Palestinian Territories web site contains useful, detailed reports about Israeli checkpoints, United Nations OCHA-OPT website

[16] Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, multiple reports, ICAHD

[17] World Council of Churches, edited by John Calhoun and Rajan Solomon, Palestinian Prisoners:  A Question of Conscience, 2014

[18]  Defense for Children International – Palestine, report citing numbers of detained children

[19]  Defense for Children International – Palestine, No Way to Treat a Child, Palestinian Children in the Israeli Military Detention System, 14 April 2016,  Palestine Children in the Israeli Military Detention System

[20] Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, “Guidelines for Effective Advocacy” http://icahd.org/what-can-you-do/guidelines-for-effective-lobbying/

[21] Matthew 18:1-5; Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-15

[22] Matthew 2:1-23

[23]  Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth, A Word of Faith, Hope and Love from Palestinian Suffering, 2009, par. 10,  Kairos Palestine – A Moment of Truth

Additional references

International Law

 

The General Board recommends that the General Assembly ADOPT GA-1719. (Discussion time: 24 min)