Is This Another Sign the Tide Is Turning on Palestinian Human Rights?

In what might be another indication that consensus on the US-Israeli special relationship is cracking, 20 members of Congress released an open letter to President Barack Obama on Monday calling for the appointment of a “special envoy” to address the dire conditions Palestinian children are forced to endure growing up under military occupation.

Initiated by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the letter states, “a reality that must be acknowledged is that 46 percent of the 4.68 million Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are under 18 years of age. These children deserve to grow up with dignity, human rights, and a future free of repression.”

The congressional letter continues:

We must raise our profound concern regarding a longstanding policy of detaining, interrogating, and imprisoning Palestinian children as young as 12 and 13 for up to a year, sometimes longer, without a trial and in violation of international standards. Recently, the Associated Press reported that a 12-year-old Palestinian girl was imprisoned by Israel’s military justice system. UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and other international NGOs have documented these human rights abuses against Palestinian youth. A report released in April by Defense for Children International-Palestine, based on the testimony of 429 Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military or police, found that three-quarters endured some form of physical violence following arrest. Israeli interrogators used position abuse, threats, and even solitary confinement to coerce confessions from some of these children.

Signatories of the letter include Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) who were recently appointed to the platform drafting committee of the Democratic National Committee, alongside Cornel West, a supporter of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

The missive urges the president to “appoint a ‘Special Envoy for Palestinian Youth’ to travel to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Israel to hear directly from Palestinian youth, human rights and legal experts, NGOs, Palestinian and Israeli officials, including police and military leaders.”

Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defense for Children International-Palestine, commented in a press release, “Representative McCollum and her colleagues recognize that younger Americans increasingly sympathize with Palestinians and responded by calling for justice and equality for Palestinian children. By doing so, the lawmakers are challenging the decades-long US-led ‘peace process’ that has consistently demanded peace without justice.”

A Pew Research Center survey released in May found that since Israel’s brutal military assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014, there has been “a modest rise in the share of the public saying they sympathize more with the Palestinians, from 14 percent then to 19 percent today.” This shift is particularly pronounced among young people, noted Pew researchers, with the share of millennials who sympathize with Palestinians climbing from “9 percent in 2006 to 20 percent in July 2014 to 27 percent today.”

A separate Pew Research Poll conducted in the midst of the 2014 war found that African-Americans and Latinos were far more likely to hold Israel responsible for the violence than white Americans.

Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton continues to hinge her candidacy on her “unbreakable bond” with right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And 73 percent of Senate Democrats — including progressive champion Elizabeth Warren — joined 94 percent of Senate Republicans in April in signing an open letter to President Barack Obama calling for an increase in the already exorbitant levels of unconditional US military aid to Israel.

But Raed Jarrar, government relations manager at the American Friends Service Committee, told AlterNet that today’s letter is “another sign that the US-Israeli relationship is changing and there are voices calling for more accountability and an end to the US blank check.”