Press release

Worldwide Appeal to Pope Francis:

Help End the Kidnapping and Imprisonment of Palestinian Childrenand Youth

Nearly 6000 people world wide have signed an appeal asking the Holy Father to raise with Israeli officials the widespread abuse of Palestinian children, some as young as twelve years of age. On the eve of Hisvisit to the Holy Land, the appeals have been delivered to the Vatican this week, asking His Holiness to raise this serious problem when he meets with Israeli officials next week.

The initiative began on Ash Wednesday, 2014,with an Open Letter signed bymore than 200 religious leaders from the three Abrahamic faiths, including 24 bishops, members of religious orders,Christian clergy, Rabbis,and Imams. Among those signing the initial appeal were His BeatitudeMichel Sabbah, Latin (Roman Catholic) Patriarch of Jerusalem and Palestine (Emeritus), Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Friends of Sabeel-North America and the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center -Jerusalem (“a Palestinian Christian voice”) coordinatedthe project with significant support from churches, religious communities andpeace movements primarily in North America and Europe.Israel’s brutal practices against Palestinian children are not new and have been monitored by several international human rights organizations through the years, including Save the Children International, UNICEF, Detention of Children International,Addameer, Military Court Watch, and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.UNICEF’s recentreportChildren in Israeli Military Detention, focused on the treatment of hundreds of Palestinian children prosecuted in Israeli military courts each year. Based on over 400 sworn testimonies, UNICEF concluded that the “ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process.” The treatment documented by UNICEF includes terrifying nighttime arrests, blindfolding, shackling, and routine physical and mental abuse of children as young as 12 years old.UNICEFconcluded that: “in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.”

Many of the children detained for extended sentences have their education disrupted and undergo severe trauma. The right of children and youth to education, including those who are imprisoned, is enshrined in international human rights law, specifically Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 94 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. Since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip in 1967, prisoners and detainees’ right to education has been severely constricted, if not prohibited. These restrictions are imposed on children and youth, of whom the Israeli military arrests an average of 700 annually. The Palestinian human rights agency Addameer concludes that Israel’s “goal” is to “un-educate” Palestinians, especially those aged 16-18 who “constitute the pillar of community development” and future hope for their families.

As the Holy Father visits historic Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and other holy sites, we hope He will have compassion on the children. As he follows in the contemporary “Via Dolorosa” of these children, may he address their suffering when he meets with Israeli officials and insist that they end these brutal practices. “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for such is the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:16)

Rev. Naim Ateek, Director ofthe Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center – Jerusalem

Rev. Don Wagner, Program Director of Friends of Sabeel—North America