19 Dems urge Kerry to make detained Palestinian children a priority
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19 Dems urge Kerry to make detained Palestinian children a priority

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Nineteen House Democrats signed a letter urging the Obama administration to make Israel’s treatment of imprisoned Palestinian minors a priority in the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The letter, initiated by Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., cites a 2013 UNICEF report on Palestinian children in military detention and notes that Israel has addressed some of the claims in that report.

“This is a positive step and a clear acknowledgement that legitimate human rights concerns exist,” said the letter sent June 19 and made public on Monday.

“Progress to ensure Palestinian children’s rights are not abused is in the interest of the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian people,” the letter said. “We urge the Department of State to elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority status in our bilateral relationship with Israel.”

The letter quotes UNICEF as saying that Israel’s military courts do not guarantee the rights of children that come before its judges.

“UNICEF initiated their report in response to concerns regarding the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment of Palestinian children while in the Israeli military detention system,” the letter said.

Israel, a past member of the UNICEF board, said after the release of the initial 2013 report that it “values and respects” the organization and would work to implement the report’s recommendations.

Amnesty International, Defense for Children International-Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and two Quaker organizations, the American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation, advocated in support of the congressional letter. The groups estimate that Israel’s military detains 700 youths each year.

J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, did not actively advocate for the letter, but signaled support for its signing when the group’s position was solicited by lawmakers.