J Street and Congress Misled by Terrorist-linked NGO

J Street can now be counted among the victims of a manipulative and false campaign to present Israel as a serial violator of children’s rights.

The “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby has promoted a July 20 letter from Members of Congress to Secretary of State Pompeo, condemning Israel for “mistreatment of Palestinian children.”  Many of the NGO (non-governmental organization) claims repeated by these lawmakers have previously been exposed as half-truths or complete distortions.

Of greater concern is the central role played by those with ties to a terrorist organization in pushing this agenda.  Many of the document’s claims can be attributed to Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), a Palestinian group with close ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).  The latter is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, EU, Israel and Canada.

The relationship is exemplified by Hashem Abu-Maria, a former DCI-P coordinator, and Mahmoud Jiddah, a board member through 2012-2016.  After Abu-Maria’s 2014 death during violent clashes with the military, he was hailed by the PFLP as a “comrade” and “martyred leader” who “was in the ranks of the national liberation struggle and the PFLP from an early age”.  The PFLP also held public ceremonies in his honor.

Jiddah was jailed for carrying out grenade attacks on Israeli civilians in 1968. Several other current and former DCI-P employees and board members are also connected to the PFLP.

Through the “No Way to Treat a Child” campaign, DCI-P works to convince Congress to sanction Israel, by misrepresenting and decontextualizing key facts surrounding the detention of Palestinians accused of involvement in violent crimes.

For instance, it alleges that Israel “detains and prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year,” a charge echoed in this letter.

Unacknowledged is the fact that these arrests are related to serious crimes including murder and attempted murder, incitement to violence, weapons charges, and assault.

The July 26 murder of an Israeli civilian by a 17-year-old Palestinian is the latest example of an act of terrorism committed by a Palestinian teen, raised in an environment of incitement. Glaringly missing from the J Street-endorsed congressional letter is an effective alternative for Israel to defend against this phenomenon.

Even in the context of preventing such violence, these arrest statistics pale in scope to the US.  Based on the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, DCI-P’s high range of 700 yearly arrests represents only 0.03% of Palestinian minors.  In comparison, the Department of Justice reported that over 850,000 US minors were arrested in 2016, representing over 1.1% of that population, without the backdrop of armed conflict.

The House members echo other DCI-P talking points, asserting that Palestinian minors “are often held indefinitely without charge or trial, denied access to a lawyer or parent, or prosecuted in a military court system that lacks certain due process safeguards compared to civilian courts.”

However, the State Department presents a very different view of Israel’s conduct.  According to its 2017 human rights report, “The evidentiary rules governing military trials of noncitizen Palestinians, all of whom are subject to military law, are the same as evidentiary rules in [domestic] criminal cases. According to the Ministry of Justice, the law does not permit convictions based solely on confessions. Counsel may assist the accused in such trials, and a judge may assign counsel to defendants. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but almost all detainees had counsel, even in minor cases.”  The report also noted that Palestinian defendants have the right to appeal rulings.

Critics of Israeli policy are apparently also unaware that  the military courts only have jurisdiction over a small set of violent or terrorism-related offenses in certain parts of the West Bank and that their use is mandated by international law. Applying Israeli civilian law would require annexation of the territory.

Furthermore, the DCIP-based letter cites UNICEF publications, likely oblivious to the fact that these reports are based almost entirely on data provided by DCI-P and other NGOs affiliated with the PFLP, such as Addameer. Moreover, other UNICEF partners feeding into these publications are active in anti-Israel BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) efforts, completely disqualifying them from serving as credible human rights observers.

Members of Congress and organizations like J Street that seek to safeguard the rights of Palestinian minors, appear to be uninformed as to how tainted their sources of information are. Groups with close ties to a terrorist organization have weaponized this issue by manipulating data, and exploiting children in the process.

One concrete step that these Representatives and J Street can take to aid Palestinian children is to demand that UNICEF cease all cooperation with and funding for NGOs affiliated with terrorist organizations, including the PFLP.  The UN agency’s credibility is in need of rehabilitation, and disavowing terror groups and their allies would represent a critical step in the right direction.

About the Author
Yona holds an M.A. in International Relations from Hebrew University.
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