Jan Schakowsky.

Where is U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston, usually a progressive champion, when it comes to protecting Palestinian children?


by Michael Peshkin, a mechanical engineering professor at Northwestern University and member of Jewish Voice for Peace – Chicago.

I know where she stands on the mistreatment of refugee children at the US border. I can count on her support for healthcare, or education, or food security for children in the US. 

But what about Palestinian children?

In the past 20 years, Israeli forces have imprisoned over 10,000 Palestinian kids between the ages of 12 and 17. Children are often taken from their homes, terrified, in the middle of the night. They are interrogated by soldiers without parents or lawyers present, and are required to sign confessions in a language they don’t understand. According to human rights groups, a majority are physically or emotionally abused following arrest.

My own daughter provoked my concern for Palestinian children. After spending a semester in Israel, she moved to Ramallah to teach Palestinian kids English. On weekends she taught karate in a community center. After a few months, she insisted that I come to see life under Israeli occupation, and I did. 

I met her students, and I guest lectured at a local high school. The bright-eyed and enthusiastic kids I met were the same age as those who the Israeli military imprisons, abuses, and traumatizes – probably some of them have since then been arrested.

Last spring, Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum introduced H.R. 2407, a bill that prohibits US funds from being used for detention, interrogation, or abuse of children. For progressives, this bill should be a no-brainer.

Yet, Rep. Schakowsky hasn’t signed on to the bill, and has in a couple of ways  undermined it:

Last year, I and others urged Rep. Schakowsky to co-sponsor the previous version of Rep. McCollum’s bill, H.R. 4391. Instead of signing on, she penned a “Dear Colleague” letter which raised concern about human rights abuses committed against Palestinian children but offered no actual measures to protect them. The letter offered her fellow representatives an easy alternative to H.R. 4391, to claim concern without action. 

This year, Rep. Schakowsky justified not signing H.R. 2407 in a new form email to constituents by referencing recent correspondence with UNICEF, claiming they told her “significant progress has been made by Israel.” 

But UNICEF didn’t say that in their letter. What they said was only that Israeli authorities claim that the situation has improved, but that the authorities are unwilling to back this up with any proof.  UNICEF communicates that while Israeli authorities claimed to have limited use of some specific practices, including surprise arrests and length of detention, they had failed to substantiate these claims. Indeed the letter reported that the number of Palestinian children in military detention facilities in any given month has held steady.

Many other progressives in the House have co-sponsored H.R. 2407. The co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Mark Pocan are co-sponsors, as are all four members of the Squad, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. Three of Rep. Schakowsky’s Illinois colleagues also are cosponsors, Reps. Chuy Garcia, Danny Davis, and Bobby Rush. 

When I visited my daughter in Ramallah, I realized that I cannot avoid responsibility for the ongoing oppression that is occurring with US support.  Improving that situation should be an immediate imperative for all of us, and I wish it were for Rep. Schakowsky as well. 

Rep. Schakowsky is a long-serving and well-respected member of Congress, with strong support from her constituents, including me. She has a special opportunity and obligation of leadership on the US relationship with Israel, and on what requirements the US places on Israel in exchange for ongoing US support. She should live up to her progressive values by insisting that Palestinian children, too, deserve to be treasured and protected.

I’d like Rep. Schakowsky to employ some of her political capital in protecting Palestinian children. She should cosponsor H.R. 2407.

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