US congresswoman introduces bill to restrict aid to Israel

The measure, backed by 17 Democrats, would ban US assistance to Israel from contributing to detention of Palestinian children.

Palestinian child
As many as 700 Palestinian children are detained by Israel each year, according to a bill sponsored by Democrat Betty McCollum [File: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images]

Washington, DC – A United States congresswoman has renewed a push to ensure that aid to Israel does not contribute to abuses of Palestinians, particularly children, as progressive legislators continue to call for conditions to be placed on the assistance.

On Friday, Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum reintroduced a bill that would prohibit US aid from contributing to the detention of Palestinian children and to military activities that would facilitate “further unilateral annexation” of the occupied West Bank.

“Not $1 of US aid should be used to commit human rights violations, demolish families’ homes, or permanently annex Palestinian lands,” McCollum said in a statement.

“The United States provides billions in assistance for Israel’s government each year — and those dollars should go toward Israel’s security, not toward actions that violate international law and cause harm.”

Israel, accused of apartheid by leading human rights groups including Amnesty International, receives at least $3.8bn in US aid annually.

The bill, dubbed Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, has little chance of passing in Congress, where Israel enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support.

But Palestinian rights advocates say such measures lead to debate about US policy and highlight the push to question unconditional aid to Israel. They point to public opinion polls showing that a growing number of Americans, especially Democrats, sympathise with Palestinians and support placing restrictions on the assistance.

McCollum’s bill was co-sponsored by 16 Democrats, including Virginia Representative Don Beyer; Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal; Palestinian American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib; and prominent progressives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley.

Representative Barbara Lee, who is running for the US Senate in California, and Summer Lee — a first-term congresswoman who overcame millions of dollars in campaign spending against her by pro-Israel groups last year — are also backing the bill.

“Israel’s drive to perpetuate its control over the occupied West Bank results in other serious violations of international law, including the unlawful demolition of Palestinian homes and the forcible transfer of Palestinian civilians,” the bill said.

It also noted that between 500 and 700 Palestinian children, aged 12 to 17, are detained by Israel every year and prosecuted before military courts.

“In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, there are two separate and unequal legal systems, with Israeli military law imposed on Palestinians and Israeli civilian law applied to Israeli settlers,” the proposed legislation said.

McCollum first presented a version of the bill in 2017 and has reintroduced it in every Congress, every two years, since then. The measure has never been considered by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, currently chaired by Michael McCaul, a staunchly pro-Israel Republican.

“The dehumanisation of the Palestinian people has been such an effective narrative that 75 percent of Congress wants absolutely no restriction on US military aid to Israel, effectively supporting the systemic repression of Palestinian society,” the congresswoman told Al Jazeera in 2021, when she last introduced the bill.

Last month, 14 legislators — including Senator Bernie Sanders and many of the co-sponsors of McCollum’s measure — issued a letter urging Democratic President Joe Biden to investigate whether US weapons were used to commit rights violations against Palestinians.

The letter called for ensuring that “US taxpayer funds do not support projects in illegal settlements”.

The Biden administration has criticised Israeli settlement plans, but US officials often stress that Washington’s commitment to Israel is “ironclad”.

As a candidate in late 2019, Biden — a self-proclaimed Zionist — dismissed placing conditions on aid to Israel as a “bizarre” idea.

Source: Al Jazeera