U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., withdrew her support from a bill promoting human rights for Palestinian children last week. The bill, titled “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act,” would require that funds from the U.S. “do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.”
In an email statement to The Daily, Dingell wrote that she remains dedicated to advocating for a two-state solution in Israel.
“We must be committed to promoting a peaceful, two-state solution that empowers the Palestinian people to live in dignity and security with Israel,” Dingell wrote. “That relies on policies that lay the groundwork for that goal and is why I’ve been strongly critical of unilateral moves that serve as an obstacle toward peace.”
Dingell explained that after discussing with community members, she decided the bill was “ultimately counterproductive to a peaceful, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Dingell, a Democrat, was originally elected in 2014, succeeding her recently late husband John Dingell. Her district covers parts of Ann Arbor, along with some of western metropolitan Detroit and Dearborn, an area with a significant Palestinian population and one of the largest Arab-American populations in the country.
The bill, introduced in April, states its purpose is to promote human rights for Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation. It has 21 co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress.
According to the proposed legislation, between 500 and 700 Palestinian children ages of 12 through 17 are detained and prosecuted “before a military court system that lacks basic and fundamental guarantees of due process in violation of international standards.” The bill claims such treatment of Palestinian children is pertinent to Congress because it violates international law.
Public Policy senior Arwa Gayar is an executive member of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a Palestinian solidarity organization on campus. Gayar said she was surprised by Dingell’s decision.
“Debbie Dingell had a very progressive voting record on issues relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She often is very reliable in supporting issues that are supported by Arab-Americans,” Gayar said. “I was definitely surprised when she withdrew her support, especially because the bill itself is about promoting human rights for Palestinian children.”
The bill would amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to specify that no funds appropriated to another country could be used to support “the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of children in violation of international humanitarian law.”
The bill also allocates $19 million each year to non-governmental organizations that either monitor human rights abuses associated with Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children or provide health treatment to children who have been detained.
LSA senior Zayd Elkahlah said as a Palestinian, Dingell’s withdrawal of support from the bill feels “wrong and weird” to her, given that it pertains to the human rights of Palestinian children.
“You’re not choosing a side here — kids don’t have a side, they’re just kids,” Elkahlah said. “I think she also said in a tweet that she would never do action to harm Palestinian children, but at the same time, by her not acting, by not taking action, she is harming the children.”
While Gayar said she does not think Dingell will lose people’s support in the 2020 election over this, she said she thinks it will give some people pause.
“I think this hesitates some people on their support for her, and I think honestly a lot of it is just wanting more transparency and clarity in the process,” Gayar said. “I think a representative democracy depends on that public accountability and I think decisions like this where she’s not only citing public engagement, but it also demands public engagement from constituents are so important to make sure that there’s transparency in that process.”