By Ali Abunimah
One in five members of Australia’s parliament is calling on Israel to end its systematic abuses of Palestinian children.
“Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts. And only Palestinian children,” dozens of members of the Australian house of representatives and senate say in a letter released by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network on Monday.
“Up to 700 Palestinian children are arrested each year by the Israeli military, and this number is increasing,” the 49 lawmakers add, citing United Nations reports that ill-treatment of Palestinian children is “widespread, systematic and institutionalized.”
The lawmakers call on Israel to comply with its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and “to not arrest or detain Palestinian children unless this is a last resort, and if they are detained, to immediately institute protections for those children including that their safety and best interests are prioritized, and that they are permitted a fair trial.”
The letter is part of a growing debate on Israel’s human rights abuses. Earlier this month, Maria Vamvakinou, a member of the main opposition Australian Labor Party, introduced a motion calling on Australia “to raise concerns with the Israeli government about the treatment of Palestinian children.”
Though parliament has yet to vote on the measure, a number of lawmakers have given speeches calling on Israel to end its abuses of Palestinian children:
“We are very encouraged to see this issue resonating with members of parliament in Australia,” Beth Miller from the human rights group Defense for Children International-Palestine told The Electronic Intifada. “The situation on the ground for Palestinian children is increasingly dire. This is a welcome sign that more leaders are ready to take bold action to ensure justice and accountability.”
The initiative in Australia was the result of international cooperation among advocates for Palestinian rights.
Over the summer, members of APAN – the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network – contacted the No Way to Treat a Child campaign about its successes in winning US congressional support for Palestinian children’s rights.
Led by the American Friends Service Committee and Defense for Children International-Palestine, the No Way to Treat a Child campaign has gained traction in notoriously difficult political territory for those working to hold Israel accountable for its abuses.
“We were thrilled that organizers in Australia heard of our advocacy with members of the US Congress about Palestinian children in Israeli military detention,” Jennifer Bing of the American Friends Service Committee told The Electronic Intifada. “We had several email and Skype exchanges to share strategies and effective messaging with those often silent about Palestinian human rights.”
In June, 20 US lawmakers urged President Barack Obama to send a “clear signal” to Palestinian children that their lives are valued.
In a letter initiated by Minnesota congresswoman Betty McCollum, the lawmakers urged the president to appoint a special envoy to protect the rights of Palestinian children under Israeli occupation.
A year earlier, 19 US lawmakers called on Secretary of State John Kerry to “prioritize the human rights of Palestinian children” in relations with Israel.
While Obama did not act on the lawmakers’ request, and unconditionally awarded Israel the biggest US military aid package in history earlier this year, the lawmakers’ willingness to speak out is a sign of the greater openness and contestation over Palestinian rights within the Democratic Party.
One of the signers of the letter to Obama was Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison, a leading contender to be chair of the party’s top governing body, the Democratic National Committee.