The Protection of Children in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Presbyterians for Middle East Peace (PFMEP) fully supports statements that affirm the protection of and human rights of children. However, we ask GA commissioners to act with care, prudence, and objective verification of allegations before they support the kind of hateful statements frequently put forward by anti-Israel activists.

A focal point for Israel-targeted divestment/BDS advocates in the Christian community this year is the treatment of Palestinian children detained by Israeli security forces in the West Bank, most typically for engaging in rock-throwing at people or moving vehicles. There will be an overture on this issue presented at the Presbyterian General Assembly this June, overture 08-02, “On Advocating for the Safety and Well-being of Children of Palestine and Israel.

Advocating for the well-being of children is certainly something we all agree on. Children need and deserve our protection, and the abuse of children is a very serious matter deserving great attention. The General Assembly can and should publicly affirm and support these important rights and protections.

In addition to affirming the protection of children, however, this overture asks Presbyterians to stand behind some extremely harsh accusations. “Presbyterians everywhere” are asked to “communicate their concern for the safety and well-being of the children of Palestine who suffer widespread and systematic patterns of ill treatment and torture within the Israeli military detention system.” Added to this are accusations of “beatings, blindfolding, . . threats of sexual assault and rape, verbal abuse, strip searching, threats, denial of food, water, and access to a toilet.”

If such accusations are true they are very serious. At the same time, we know that accusations of this nature are endemic to the conflict and have been intensely disputed by Israelis, Palestinians and international NGOs (click here for an example of a rebuttal to child torture allegations). We know that the track record for truth and accuracy of accusations made by BDS movement advocates is poor. Finally, we know that in our justice system the accused has the right to a defense and to face the accuser, and that the Presbyterian General Assembly lacks the structure and capacity for such a fair and thorough hearing.

If the motivation of this overture is truly the protection of children, we also question why violations of the rights of children within Palestinian society is not addressed. In the current “knife intifada” Palestinian children have been reportedly encouraged and incited to engage in attacks of innocent civilians, or to attack Israeli soldiers. The recruitment of children as combatants is a war crime, and the incitement of children to engage in stabbings of innocent people is a crime against humanity.

At this summer’s GA, commissioners will have no ability to vet or independently verify the accusations made in this overture. If the accusations lack truth, then taking an action based on such accusations can needlessly incite hatred and violence. In such a case, Presbyterians will not be standing for the welfare of children, but instead become unwitting paticipants in a hate campaign that will be proclaimed a victory by the BDS movement.