Israel’s abuse and mistreatment of Palestinian children in military detention was under the spotlight in Westminster yesterday, as MPs urged it to end the “torture” of minors.
Israeli authorities were also charged with war crimes, over the imprisonment of both children and adults from the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) inside Israel’s pre-1967 lines, a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The Westminster Hall debate on “Military detention of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities” was initiated by Labour MP Sarah Champion, and attracted cross-party participation.
In her speech, Champion noted Israel’s failure to implement recommendations made since 2012 by both UNICEF and a UK government-sponsored delegation; out of 40 specific recommendations made by the latter, covering “arrest, interrogation, bail hearings, plea bargaining, trials, sentencing, detention, complaints and monitoring”, only one has been implemented by Israeli authorities.
Thus, she stressed, the situation remains largely the same as it was when UNICEF described how “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.”
The Labour MP touched upon a number of specific issues, including the terrifying practice of night-time raids of Palestinian homes, forced confessions, and lack of access to a lawyer: citing Military Court Watch statistics, Champion noted that four out of five Palestinian children do not have access to a lawyer prior to interrogation at the hands of Israeli occupation forces.
Champion pointed to the 95 per cent conviction rate in Israel’s military courts, and the role of confessions. Citing an “expert psychiatric opinion” commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights Israel, the Labour MP noted that Palestinian children are led into making false confessions through the use of physical and psychological methods that “are equivalent to torture”.
Indeed, Champion noted: “The UK report noted that if the process of arrest and interrogation is occurring to a significant extent as described, Israel would be in breach of the absolute prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The debate also heard how Israel’s policy of “transferring Palestinian detainees—adults and children—from the West Bank to prisons located in Israel” is a “violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, an activity classed “as a war crime”. In 2017, 83 per cent of adult detainees and 61 per cent of child detainees were “transferred and detained unlawfully”.
Interestingly, Champion asked the government to “ascertain how many UK citizens are currently involved, directly or indirectly, with the unlawful transfer and detention of Palestinian prisoners outside the occupied territory”, and asked “what measures will he take in respect of those individuals in accordance with the law?”
Among the MPs to contribute to the debate was Andy Slaughter (Labour, Hammersmith), who said that he met a Palestinian family during a visit to the region last year, whose “young son had been seized in the middle of the night” and subsequently placed in administrative detention – “detention without charge for unlimited periods”.
MP Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) drew attention to “the journey of a child living under military occupation and what they will endure—the physical violence, the fear, the complete interruption of their life, and the huge swathes of time spent in detention”, adding it was “clear” that the Israeli “system is designed to repress, crush and intimidate generation after generation of Palestinians”.
The new Labour MP also expressed “solidarity with Ahed Tamimi”, telling the debate: “Yesterday we celebrated the brave women in the UK who fought for their rights, often suffering the brutalities of the police and state as a consequence. Ahed Tamimi carries that flame forward for all young children such as her across the world—solidarity.”
A number of MPs known for their Israel advocacy also spoke in the debate, seeking to draw attention away from the specific policies being discussed and instead suggested Israel was being “singled out” unfairly. Their contributions were often openly derided by those present, for their transparently disingenuous recitation of familiar talking points.
Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt, responding on behalf of the government, confirmed that the Israeli government had indeed only implemented one of 40 specific recommendations made by leading British lawyers in their report “Children in Military Custody”. He said that UK authorities “have repeatedly and publicly called on Israel to fulfil its international legal obligations”.