This week Sarah Champion led a debate on Palestinian child prisoners. Around 50 MPs took part, the majority supporting the protection of Palestinian children from the violations they suffer under Israeli military rule.
WEDNESDAY 6 January 2016
Westminster Hall Debate on “Child prisoners and detainees in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, tabled by Sarah Champion:
– Speech by Sarah Champion: She presents a detailed summary of the FCO-funded independent lawyers’ damning report of 2012 on children held in Israeli military custody [see http://www.childreninmilitarycustody.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Children_in_Military_Custody_Full_Report.pdf], together with the subsequent UNICEF report, Israel’s introduction of a pilot scheme, the on-going discussions between UK and Israeli officials, and UNICEF’s 2015 update, which found that “alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014”. [her speech should be read or listened to in full]
– Paula Sherriff: I visited the west bank with my hon. Friend in September 2015 with the Council for Arab-British Understanding and Medical Aid for Palestinians, and we were briefed by Military Court Watch. Does my hon. Friend share my concern at the significant disparity between treatment of Palestinian and Israeli young people, including lack of legal representation and parental support, allegations of widespread abuse and having to sign confessions in Hebrew, among many others?
– Caroline Lucas: I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this incredibly important debate. She is speaking eloquently in listing the human rights abuses in Israel and indicating that warm words to encourage Israel to act differently are not working. Does she agree that it is now time for action? For example, the UK could call for the suspension of the EU-Israel association agreement, which has a clause saying that if there are human rights abuses, there is a right to suspend the agreement. How can the agreement still be in place with that human rights clause when Israel completely ignores human rights concerns year after year?
– Louise Ellman: My hon. Friend makes an important point, but does she accept that the context in which these situations occur is an organised campaign conducted by the Palestinian authorities of incitement, to try to provoke young Palestinians to carry out acts of violence towards other civilians, some of which result in death, including the death of young children?
– Guto Bebb: On the specific point made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about human rights abuses and whether that should result in a breach of our relationship with Israel, did not UNICEF, which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) quoted, highlight alleged human rights abuses of minors in the UK who were arrested during the 2011 London riots?
– Jo Cox: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. She will be aware that evidence from Military Court Watch suggests that 65% of children continue to report being arrested at night in what are described as terrifying raids by the military.
– Andrew Percy: I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this undoubtedly important debate. The context in which Israel operates on the west bank is obviously incredibly difficult and none of us would want to find ourselves in it. With that in mind, will she comment on the failure of the Palestinian Authority to work with the Israeli authorities on the west bank on alternatives to detention? She knows full well that they will not engage in such alternatives. I hope that she also knows full well that the difficulty of arresting people during the day instead of the night is that it has led to deaths and riots. The authorities are operating in a very difficult context.
– Andy Slaughter: Does my hon. Friend agree that the context is the illegal occupation since 1967? Does she also agree that one of the most egregious elements is the difference between the treatment of Israeli children in illegal settlements and Palestinian children? Israeli children are subject to the rule of law; Palestinian children are not.
– Louise Ellman: Does my hon. Friend really believe that the solution to this horrendous conflict between two peoples—the Israeli and the Palestinian people—can be found by encouraging individual child Palestinians to commit acts of violence against other human beings?
– Louise Haigh: Does my hon. Friend share my concern about British companies, such as G4S, that are operating prison facilities and illegally detaining Palestinian children in Israel, and about movements by the UK Government to stop local authorities divesting from companies that are committing atrocities in the occupied territories?
– Jim Cunningham: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Israeli authorities, if they are to make any attempt at democracy, should implement democratic laws in particular? These children, if they are guilty of wrongdoing, should be handed to civilian authorities and civilian courts.
– Andrew Percy: The allegation is that Israel is attempting, through various processes, to annex the west bank, but the imposition of civil Israeli law on the west bank would be an annexation of the west bank. It is a standard rule under UN provisions that an occupying force uses military laws and justice. Any attempt to implement the Israeli legal system would be an annexation of the west bank.
– Peter Dowd: “My hands were tied in front of me, so I kept reaching up to pull the blindfold off, but the soldiers kept pulling my hands down to stop me. I just wanted to go home to my dad.” That was a nine-year-old. Does my hon. Friend agree that if that behaviour happened in any of our constituencies, we would be outraged?
– Ian Austin: As I understand it, the age of legal responsibility in Israel and Palestine is 12. A nine-year-old could not be detained—they just could not. It does not happen.
– Sarah Champion: I completely understand my hon. Friend’s incredulity, but unfortunately it does happen. [passage omitted] The transfer of detainees en masse from occupied territory is a stand-alone issue, because it is a war crime. It is not contingent on the presence or absence of peace talks. It should not be contingent on one political view or another. After nearly half a century, it requires decisive action in accordance with our international legal obligations.The fourth Geneva convention makes it clear that the UK has a positive legal obligation to search for persons accused of committing grave breaches of the convention, regardless of their nationality, and to ensure that if such persons enter the UK, they are arrested and prosecuted with all speed. That is why I recommend that in order to begin to fulfil our legal obligations, we must establish and maintain a watch list of all known war crime suspects, whoever they may be. We should know, at all times, who is coming into this country, whether we need to be concerned and what action we are legally obliged to take. As a nation, we must send a strong message that we will no longer tolerate the commission of war crimes on such an industrial scale, and that we are a people who honour our commitments.
I would like the Minister to act on five points. I would like him to establish a watch list that includes the names of all who commit, aid, abet and procure the commission by another person of the unlawful transfer of protected persons—adults and children—from occupied territories to prisons in Israel. I want him to ensure that any individual on the watch list who attempts to enter the UK is detained for questioning and, if sufficient evidence is available, charged and prosecuted, subject to the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
I would like the Minister to continue to lobby the Israeli Government to cease the practice of unlawfully transferring protected persons—adults and children—from the occupied territory, and to relay the concerns of this House that that practice undermines international legal order. I would like him to continue to lobby the Israeli Government to implement all 40 recommendations included in the UK report, and to monitor whether any changes to military detention systems are translating into tangible improvements on the ground and resulting in a substantial reduction in the level of reported abuse.
Finally, what is the UK Government’s response to Israel’s reported decision to reject UNICEF recommendation 13, which was echoed in the UK lawyers’ report, and which states: “In accordance with international law, all Palestinian children detained in the Israeli military detention system shall be held in facilities located in the occupied Palestinian territory”? [extract, concluding her speech; total duration including interventions 24′]
– Speech by John Howell: Draws attention to his entry in Register of Members’ Financial Interests; disputes the allegations in Sarah Champion’s speech and says it was all the fault of Palestinian incitement and hostile propaganda.
– Sarah Champion: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the process being conducted in Arabic, but we do not have evidence of that because it is not being recorded. Will he comment on access to lawyers? The maximum period of detention without access to a lawyer is 48 hours for an Israeli child, but 90 days for a Palestinian child.
– Andrew Percy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the biggest issues, of course, is incitement. Does he share my concern about the container of children’s dolls that was headed for the Palestinian territories? I have brought one with me today—although we are not allowed to use aids. Each doll is dressed up, has a rock in its hand and has messages saying, “Jerusalem is ours” and “We are coming for Jerusalem” on it. A child with a rock in its hand—how on earth are we ever going to get peace between these two peoples when children are incited from a young age into committing what are, quite often, very serious acts of violence that have resulted in death?
– Guto Bebb: Does my hon. Friend agree that the extent of Palestinian incitement of young people to take arms and violent action almost becomes an issue of child abuse?
– Bob Stewart: Is not the nub of the problem the fact that there are two legal systems operating and they are not equalised? If a child happens to be Israeli, they are treated much more fairly than if they happen to be Palestinian. That is wrong and Israel should sort it.
– John Howell: No, the nub of this issue is that Palestinian incitement continues. As long as it does, we will not get peace in the area. We have to end the Palestinian incitement. I urge the Foreign Office to take action on that. [end of JH speech; total duration 8′]
– Speech by Andy Slaughter: [passage omitted in which he noted that almost 50 MPs were present, quoted briefing from Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights and criticised the previous speaker] I will simply make two points. The first is that the differential treatment between Israeli children in settlements—settlements that are illegal under international law, as this Government recognise—and Palestinian children is symptomatic of the apartheid regime that exists on the west bank and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israeli Government Ministers are quite open now that they want annexation—they refer to the area of the west bank as Judea and Samaria. There is no longer any pretence, and Government Members—and, indeed, Opposition Members—who seek to defend the occupation are increasingly clutching at straws in doing so.
Finally I make a plea to the Minister. His Government have a poor record on human rights. His senior Foreign Office officials have said it is no longer a priority. We have seen what they are now saying about torture and the death penalty in relation to membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council. We have seen what has happened to the ministerial code. I urge the Minister—because he is a civilised man—to look at these issues and not just to come back with platitudes today, but to address them seriously and to address this issue, which clearly concerns a large number of hon. and right hon. Members. I urge him not just to go through the motions of protesting to the Israeli authorities, but to take some action and to be very clear that Britain, internationally, will not stand for this treatment of children. [extract; total duration of speech 3′]
– Speech by Bob Stewart: Praises Israel but decries its different treatment of Israeli and Palestinian civilians in the West Bank; pays tribute to Gerard Horton of Military Court Watch; said it saddened him to say this but “the way Palestinian children are dealt with in the west bank has some disturbing similarities with what I witnessed happening to children in the Balkans”, begs Israel to stop this, “sort this out”. [total duration 8′]
– Guto Bebb: I find my hon. Friend’s comments frankly disgraceful in view of the murder of 10,000 people in Srebrenica simply because they were Muslim. To make that comparison is unworthy.
– Speech by Lisa Cameron: Talks about the psychological damage children suffer in military detention and the effect of having confession extracted under pressure. [duration 4′]
– Ian Austin: As a psychologist, will the hon. Lady comment on the likely impact on children of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorists who have murdered Israelis, presenting them as role models? What is the likely impact on children of Palestinian schools using textbooks that glorify violence and of countless examples of hatred and anti-Semitism being promoted on children’s television programmes on official Palestinian Authority TV in the west bank?
– Speech by David Jones: Refers to his visit to the West Bank in 2015 as CAABU board member; says UNICEF concluded there Israel was in breach of its duties as the occupying power in Palestine, so those members who see fault on both sides are missing the point, and concluded: “Frankly, the way that Israel is conducting itself is in a way that should bring shame to any self-respecting democracy, and even those of us who consider ourselves to be friends of Israel should point out, in a friendly manner, that that is a matter that the Israeli authorities themselves should also address.” [duration 4′]
– Speech by Naz Shah: The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) referred to a doll. I would argue that people do not need dolls to promote hate and violence. What we have before us in Israel and Palestine is children between the ages of nine and 12 experiencing discrimination. I have children of my own who are aged eight and 11, but I cannot begin to imagine the trauma and the stamp on Palestinian children’s brains and hearts of hatred towards the Israeli military as they grow up and face discrimination, as well as the way they are tret in custody. So I would argue that we do not need props.
Only recently, Shin Bet told the Israeli Government that Abbas was not encouraging terror and was actually promoting peace. So, I disagree with my hon. Friends when they say that the Palestinians are promoting this kind of propaganda. [extract]
– Louise Ellman: I note my hon. Friend’s comments that a child should not be detained, and I assume that she means in any circumstances. Suppose a child was involved in an act of violence that resulted in the deaths of other human beings. That is what has happened with young Palestinians throwing stones—people have been killed. In those circumstances, surely she thinks that there should be detention.
– Ian Austin: Last February, four-year-old Adele Biton died after being critically injured by youths in a stone-throwing incident [editor’s note: this is the Hares boys’ case, a cause of much concern for the potential wrongful conviction of several boys]. I am just as worried as my hon. Friend is about the detention of children, but she should not minimise the crimes and violence that are taking place on the other side as well.
– Naz Shah: I will finish by clearly making the point that the Israeli Government have not provided any evidence of any child causing a death, or contributing to a death, using a stone. There is no evidence of that. [end of NS speech; total duration of 3′]
– Speech by Tania Mathias: Talks of her experience as a witness for two years in the OPTs and compares the way the arrest of Palestinian children with the humane way her local police in Twickenham conducted child arrest. She urged the Minister to follow up the resignation of the UN human rights envoy to the Palestinian territories “because of lack of access to information”. [duration 4′]
– Speech by Simon Danczuk: Says that as a former chairman of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, this issue is very close to his heart. [2′]
– Paul Monaghan: Does the hon. Member agree that the current situation and the current sustained level of child imprisonment evidences a judicial process in Israel that lacks all proportionality and requires international intervention to protect victims on both sides of this conflict?
– Speech by Philippa Whitford: Talks of her experience working in Gaza as a surgeon when Oslo agreement started; industrial annexation of the WB is the problem; we have allowed ourselves to go down the agenda; accepts that military court; The UK should stand up aggressively for human rights and not be a push over.
– Andrew Percy: One point we have heard repeated today is about people not having access to legal representation or parents, but will the hon. Lady accept, because it is a fact, that the situation is the same in the domestic law in Israel on minors? Similarly, many of the standard operating procedures that apply in the west bank have been copied over from the domestic law in Israel. Also, in terms of Gaza, when the Israelis left we ended up with a police force that was throwing people off buildings.
– Philippa Whitford: Says that is why she will not be taking any more interventions and goes on to talk about the long-term effects on children held in military detention. [total duration 7′]
– Speech by Diana Johnson, summing up for the Opposition: [passage omitted] Before turning to the specific issue of children, I should, as others have, comment on the wider context of today’s debate and reiterate the Labour party’s commitment to support a negotiated two-state solution for the two peoples of Israel and Palestine. As has already been said, the situation in Israel and the west bank is bleak. There are no peace talks, and there is no immediate prospect of peace talks. We appear to be as far from a resolution to the conflict as at any point in the past 20 years, while the continued settlement building makes the prospect of a two-state solution even less likely. [passage omitted] Before I go on to deal with some of the specific issues around the Israeli response to Palestinian child prisoners, I want to refer to the 2005 assertion from Amnesty International:
“Palestinian armed groups have repeatedly shown total disregard for the most fundamental human rights, notably the right to life, by deliberately targeting Israeli civilians and by using Palestinian children in armed attacks. Children are susceptible to recruitment by manipulation or may be driven to join armed groups for a variety of reasons, including a desire to avenge relatives or friends killed by the Israeli army.” [passage omitted] In conclusion, I hope the Minister will make it unambiguously clear today that the UK Government stand behind all 40 of the UK recommendations and will explain to the House how he intends to encourage Israel to do far more to implement the recommendations as soon as possible. [total duration 8′]
– Andrew Percy: I could not agree more on trying to bring groups together. On a recent visit to Israel—I declare an interest—we met the MEET group, which brings Palestinian and Jewish children together. It is a fantastic organisation. However, the hon. Lady knows I was a schoolteacher. Would I have delivered the following to any of my lessons? This is from a grade 8 Palestinian textbook: “Today’s Muslim countries need urgently Jihad and Jihad fighters in order to liberate the robbed land and to get rid of the robbing Jews”. That is the context of a lot of the violence. Yes, we must hold Israel to account, but we must also hold the Palestinians to account for the abuse of children through the school system.
– Speech by Tobias Ellwood giving the Government response: [passage omitted in which he apologises for the debate being held in WH, promises to write to and have discussions with Members who did not have time to speak, reiterates the Government’s commitment to human rights] We encourage and support Israel to continue to support the democratic process. We are a friend of Israel and we work with the United States to ensure it maintains high standards and the rule of law. That is very important indeed. It is very easy when a country is under pressure, as we have found ourselves—Guantanamo Bay is an example—to allow standards to slip. So it is important that we are constructively critical but supportive of Israel in the challenges that it faces.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)—regrettably, she is not in her place—mentioned that the EU-Israel association agreement should be suspended if Israel does not live up to its human rights obligations. The agreement could be suspended, but it provides the framework for human rights and other issues to be debated. It provides an important forum for such things to be discussed, so we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we suspended it. [passage omitted] Co-operation is needed between the Palestinian authorities and Israel to deal with child prisoners. There is also the fundamental absence of a two-state solution, which is the cause of this problem. Members have mentioned the appalling use of children to commit acts of violence. The level of incitement is worrying, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) pointed out, but that should not prevent us from encouraging Israel, working with it and being critical of it on those points, as allies and friends are able to do. [passage omitted] We will continue to make this issue a focus of our engagement with Israel, and we plan to fund a follow-up visit by the delegation in February 2016 to report on further progress. [passage omitted] The UK has made repeated representations to Israel about the treatment of child detainees, and I assure Members that this issue will remain a focus for us. We are committed to this matter, and I will raise it when I visit Israel next month. We will remain engaged on it. [edited extracts] [total duration 11′]
– Sarah Champion replying to the Minister: I welcome the Minister’s comments. The point of this debate is that we want children to be treated in a fair, just and legal manner, regardless of their race or the crime they committed. We want to ensure that international law is observed. [extract]
– Cat Smith: My hon. Friend will be aware that, as the US State Department noted, the Israeli military courts have a conviction rate of more than 99% for Palestinians. Does she share my concern that it is influenced by coercive interrogation and the lack of an Arabic translation of documents in interrogation?
– Richard Burden: The Minister, in reply to my hon. Friend, said that he wanted to reflect on the five points that she made. He also said that a follow-up delegation will go out in February. May I ask the Minister, through my hon. Friend, to indicate whether he thinks that there should be a full debate in the main Chamber on this issue after that? Clearly, there is a great deal of interest in this issue and a lot of people want to make points.
– Andy McDonald: Palestinian children have been subjected to such treatment for decades. Generation after generation grow up having experienced violence and trauma, and they harbour feelings of resentment, persistent anger, hatred and mistrust as a result. Does my hon. Friend agree that, unless those gross and offensive violations cease, the prospects for peace will continue to diminish?
– Sarah Champion: I agree. Everybody in this Chamber and in the country wants lasting peace. We should all be driving for a two-state solution.
I am delighted that the Minister has agreed to meet with me. I want to discuss with him how the UK can meet its legal and humanitarian obligations. I thank the Minister and Members in this Chamber for participating in this debate. [end of debate; total duration 1hour 30 minutes]
Westminster Hall Debates
Other Parliament news this week …
THURSDAY 7 JANUARY 2016
- In a Written Question Tulip Siddiq asked how much funding to assist with the effect of the refugee crisis in Syria DfID had provided to (a) Jordan, (b) Iraq and (c) Israel in each year since 2011-12. In his reply Desmond Swayne stated: “DFID does not provide funding for projects in Israel, which is a high-income country, and therefore ineligible for Overseas Development Assistance. However, DFID does have a bilateral programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including east [lower case sic] Jerusalem.”
Commons Written Answers
MONDAY 4 JANUARY 2016
- Jim Cunningham: What recent representations has Foreign Secretary made to his Israeli counterpart on the building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land; and will he make a statement? http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2015-12-16/20539
- Andy Slaughter: With reference to the statement by Baroness Anelay of 28 October 2014, what progress has been made arranging a return visit with the delegation who compiled the Children in Military Custody report?
- Andy Slaughter: With reference to the statement of 1 December 2014, what assessment has Foreign Secretary made of the performance of the pilot scheme allowing individuals to be summoned rather than arrests being made at night?
Nos 1-3 Commons Written Answers