[Graham Stringer in the Chair]
The debate is highly over-subscribed, so I will impose a time limit when Sarah Champion sits down. If hon. Members intervene on her—she says she is willing to take interventions—they will go down the order of speakers, because it looks like, even with a time limit, there will not be sufficient time to call everybody who has requested to speak.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered military detention of Palestinian children by Israeli Authorities.
It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this very important debate, Mr Stringer. I strongly welcome the fact that the Government addressed the issue of Palestinian child detainees during the third universal periodical review of Israel at the UN Human Rights Council two weeks ago. They recommended that Israel take
“action to protect child detainees, ensuring the mandatory use of audio-visual recording in interrogations with all child detainees, ending the use of painful restraints, and consistently fully informing detainees of their legal rights.”
That important statement signals a positive intent to engage constructively with this issue.
I called this debate in the same spirit: I want to support and encourage Israel to meet its international obligations regarding the rights of children. It meets them fully for Israeli citizens but, alas, does not do so for Palestinian children. To be clear, I am not making a judgment about the crimes Palestinian children are alleged to have committed or about Israel’s right to uphold the law. This debate is specifically focused on Palestinian children in military detention.
Two years ago, I secured a similar debate. I would love to tell the House that many of the issues discussed then have now been addressed, but sadly the situation remains largely the same. In March 2013, UNICEF published a report entitled “Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations”, which concluded that
“the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.”
Is there any evidence that the Israeli Government have taken any notice of the British Government’s request?
There is some evidence. I will come on to the recommendation that the Government made when the UK sent over some lawyers a number of years ago. I am grateful that the Minister is engaged in dialogue at the moment, and I hope he will update us on the current situation.
Last year, the authoritative west bank non-governmental organisation Military Court Watch found that, four years after the publication of the UNICEF report, only one of its 88 recommendations—No. 21, on access by lawyers to medical records—had been substantially implemented.
Military Court Watch reported that 79% of children detained in 2017 signed a confession or a statement in Hebrew. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the majority of those children would not have had a guardian or responsible adult with them, and that they probably would not have understood the language they were committing to?
I share my hon. Friend’s concern, and I will address that point. Arabic is an official language in the state of Israel, so why are the documents presented to children in Hebrew? I will let my hon. Friend draw conclusions.
Before the hon. Lady leaves Military Court Watch, will she give way?
That was quite a rude interruption. Please go ahead, though.
What evidence is there that NGOs such as Military Court Watch and other Israeli NGOs that perform this valuable function have themselves been subject to a measure of harassment at an official level?
I am afraid I cannot answer that, because I do not know the data. I hope that any organisation that is trying to speak on the basis of facts does not suffer harassment, but as the right hon. Gentleman knows, too often, when we put our head above the parapet, it gets shot off multiple times.
A year before the UNICEF report, a group of senior UK lawyers published an independent study entitled “Children in Military Custody”. Published in 2012 and funded by the Government, it found that Israel was in breach of at least eight of its international legal obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child and the fourth Geneva convention, due to its treatment of Palestinian children held in military detention.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this very important debate. As she knows, Palestinian children as young as 12 are routinely taken from their homes in night-time raids, blindfolded, bound, shackled, interrogated without a lawyer or parent present and with no audio-visual recordings, put into solitary confinement and forced to sign confessions. These are children we are talking about. What part of that is not plainly and simply wrong?
It is hard to argue with my hon. Friend’s passionate intervention.
The UK report set out 40 recommendations on arrest, interrogation, bail hearings, plea bargaining, trials, sentencing, detention, complaints and monitoring. Military Court Watch stated last year that only one of the UK report’s recommendations—No. 33, on the separation of children from adults in detention—had been substantially implemented. The empirical evidence is clear: half a decade after the publication of the UNICEF and UK lawyers’ reports, which contained dozens of recommendations to bring Israel’s military system of detention of Palestinian children in line with basic international legal standards, there has been limited implementation by the authorities.
Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to take this opportunity to explain to the House why Israel uses military courts.
I can do, but that is quite a big topic. Because of the, in my opinion, illegal occupation, people have to go through a military system, rather than a civilian system. The unfortunate thing is that that is applied to the Palestinians, who rarely have parity with the Israelis.
Although I praise the Israeli Government for allowing the studies to go ahead, it is disappointing that that leading international democracy has largely not acted on the recommendations, which were made in good faith. I now turn to the specific areas I would like the Minister to focus on.
I was last in the west bank in November—I have declared that in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—and I visited a family whose young son had been seized in the middle of the night and detained. He was in administrative detention. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in one respect, things have got worse since our last debate, because Israel has started using administrative detention—detention without charge for unlimited periods? That must be wrong on any basis.
Yes. That technique is not used often, but it is used. It allows the child to be held in detention without any charges being brought against them, and without their having the right to respond to the charges.
The prevalent practice of night-time raids by Israeli military personnel causes a huge amount of distress to children and their families. Inevitably, night raids on civilian population areas by any military tend to terrify those communities. After 50 years of use, they can become hugely debilitating. Although conducting night arrest operations reduces the potential for clashes with local residents, the practice cannot be said to be in the best interests of the child—a primary consideration under the UN convention on the rights of the child.
The UK report recommended:
“Arrests of children should not be carried out at night save for in extreme and unusual circumstances. A pilot study of issuing summonses as an alternative means of arrest should be carried out.”
UNICEF made similar recommendations. Following those recommendations, it was most welcome that Israel announced the introduction of a pilot scheme in February 2014, whereby summonses would be issued requiring attendance at police stations for questioning, in lieu of arresting a child at night. That was to be similar to the practice for Israeli children. Military Court Watch reports, however, that the use of summonses in lieu of night arrest has been very low. It found that 6% of the children affected in 2017 reported being served with a summons as an alternative to a night arrest; in 2016 the figure was just 2%.
Even in cases in which summonses are used, Military Court Watch identified a number of issues: in most cases, the summonses were delivered by the military after midnight; relevant parts of the summonses were frequently handwritten in Hebrew without Arabic translation; relevant information, such as the nature of the accusation, was missing; and no reference to the child’s legal rights was included in any of the summonses. Military Court Watch further reports that, in the 80 cases it documented in 2017, 65% of children still reported being arrested at night, in what are frequently described as terrifying raids undertaken by the military.
There is some good news, but overall, since the summons scheme has been in operation, it has been apparent that, first, it is infrequently utilised and, secondly, arrests in terrifying night raids continue to be the norm. Furthermore, the indications—yet to be confirmed—are that the pilot scheme may now have been discontinued altogether. Will the Minister therefore please request from his Israeli counterparts confirmation as to whether the pilot scheme is still operational? Will he also request data on the use of summonses since the pilot scheme was announced in 2014, and will he urge that children should not be arrested at night except in extreme and unusual circumstances?
Next I would like to speak about the right to silence. As we all know, the right to silence is an ancient and fundamental legal right, granting protection against self-incrimination. Significantly, that right is also enshrined in Israeli military law. When implemented properly, it provides vulnerable children with some protection against undue pressure during interrogations, which may lead to false confessions. Military Court Watch notes that 84% of children continue to report not being informed of their right to silence. It further notes that in the 16% of cases in which
“children were informed of this right, the manner and circumstances in which the information was conveyed raises serious questions as to whether the notification is sufficient.”
Another fundamental legal right is timely access to legal representation. International legal standards provide that interrogations should take place in the presence of a lawyer to protect against self-incrimination and to provide safeguards against potential ill-treatment or coercion. Israel’s highest court has confirmed the fundamental nature of the right to consult with a lawyer during the interrogation stage of an investigation.
In the 2015 update to its report, UNICEF noted that Israel’s military prosecutor highlighted that Israeli military order 1651, issued in 2009, provides a detainee with the right to meet and consult with a lawyer. Although military law is silent on when such a consultation should take place, it is accepted that it must occur before questioning, subject to limited security exceptions. As in many situations, however, there is a large gap between the law and what happens in practice.
Does my hon. Friend condemn the dangerous and short-sighted rhetoric of the President of the United States at the recent Davos conference, when he threatened to cut off Palestinian aid? Does she agree that, should that happen, the UK must ramp up its financial aid to Palestine so that Palestinians, especially children, do not pay for Trump’s fanatical world view?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As with the debate today, I think we forget that we put such statements on the public record, and they can have a direct and immediate effect. We hope that today’s speeches have a positive one, but in the case of Donald Trump, I can only say that he has had a very negative impact on the relations between the two countries.
On legal representation, this geographical area has two separate sets of rules applied to it. Under the civilian code that applies for Israeli children, there is a requirement for a parent to be in attendance during interrogation, and an undertaking that interrogations not occur at night, but the same is not reflected in the military rules. Is it not a great shame that those rules could not be matched up?
I agree with my hon. Friend. There are many, many examples in which there is no parity. That is one of the things that I urge the Israeli Government to look at, because it is blatant discrimination and is not necessary.
Military Court Watch reports that, in the 80 testimonies it collected in 2017, 81% of the children reported not having access to a lawyer before interrogation. As a result, most children still consult a lawyer for the first time in a military court, after the critical interrogation phase is over. Given that context, the UK legal charity Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights has implemented a Know Your Rights campaign in partnership with Defence for Children International-Palestine to empower and educate Palestinian children in the occupied west bank to secure their basic rights if detained in Israel’s military detention system.
The campaign started in 2014 and is ongoing, due to the Israeli authorities’ continuing non-implementation of basic human rights and due process safeguards. I therefore ask the Minister to engage with the Israeli authorities to ensure, as a bare minimum, that: first, all children are, at the time of arrest, informed in their own language of their right to silence, and relevant documents are provided to them in that language; secondly, all children are able to consult a lawyer of their choice before their interrogation and, preferably, also during interrogation; and, thirdly, in order to ensure compliance, a breach of those principles results in the discontinuance of the prosecution and the child’s immediate release. I further ask the Minister to urge the Israeli authorities, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield) suggested, to allow a parent or guardian to accompany the child during questioning—a right afforded to Israeli children when questioned by the Israeli police.
Audio-visual recording of interrogations is a practical safeguard. The UNICEF and UK reports recommended audio-visual recordings of all interrogations of children. Such recordings provide an essential further safeguard against potential ill-treatment or coercion; they also provide protection to interrogators against false allegations of wrongdoing. One would assume that that would be a win, win outcome. Perhaps in response to the recommendations, the military authorities issued military order 1745 in September 2014, requiring the audio-visual recording of all interrogations of minors in the west bank. However, the order limited that protection to non-security offences, thereby rendering it largely redundant, as most offences involving Palestinian children, including stone throwing and protesting, are classified as security offences. I ask the Minister to urge the Israeli authorities to remove the security offence exception from the military order providing for audio-visual recording of detainees and to ensure that all interrogations of children are audio-visually recorded and the tapes made available to the child’s lawyer before the first hearing.
I will now say something about the prevalence of confessional evidence in the military court system, and the process by which those confessions are obtained. It is extraordinary and disconcerting that Israel’s military court system has a conviction rate of 95%, according to its own figures. Confessional evidence is central to securing convictions in that system, whether direct confessions or confessions by others. Effective scrutiny of those confessions is virtually impossible, due to the lack of basic legal safeguards to which I have already referred. There is compelling evidence that the lack of legal protections for Palestinian children is destructive of their safety and welfare. An expert psychiatric opinion from Dr Carmon, commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights Israel, considered the emotional and developmental factors that lead children to make false confessions during interrogations. The implications of such confessions should be understood by all of us. Dr Carmon says:
“The violent arrest process and psychological interrogation methods mentioned…lead to the breaking of the ability of the child or adolescent to withstand the interrogation and flagrantly violate his or her rights. These interrogation methods, when applied to children and adolescents, are equivalent to torture.”
Will the hon. Lady give way?
Let me finish the quotation first—it might answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question.
“These methods deeply undermine the dignity and personality of the child or adolescent, and inflict pain and severe mental suffering. Uncertainty and helplessness are situations that can too easily lead a child or adolescent to provide the requested confession out of impulsiveness, fear or submission. It is a decision that is far from free and rational choice...These detention and interrogation methods ultimately create a system that breaks down, exhausts and permeates the personality of the child or adolescent and robs him or her of hope. These methods are particularly harmful to children and adolescents who live in poor, isolated populations, in a state of conflict, political tension, and/or severe social stress, such as the occupied Palestinian population. The harmful effects on children can also harm the society to which they belong.
Every child has the right to be a child, to his or her dignity, and to protection from all forms of violence.”
A retired Israeli soldier told me that the explicit instructions for night operations were to carry them out in such a brutal manner as to achieve exactly the effect that the hon. Lady refers to.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman of making that point. I too have spoken to retired Israeli soldiers and have, sadly, heard similar tales.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case. I have witnessed the military courts in process. At the end of November 2017, 313 Palestinian minors were being held, so given the scale of the problem, not addressing it is likely to have longer term consequences for getting a proper and peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine issue. Does she agree that it would be helpful if the Minister gave an update on commitments the Israeli Government have made?
I agree, and I look to the Minister to respond.
My hon. Friend will remember that a year ago she and I both served on a delegation with Members from both sides of the House. She is quoting some horrific statistics and powerful testimony, but does she not agree that the terror experienced in military court by the kids who threw stones is often more powerful than the statistics in isolation? Sometimes people cannot get a grip on them. This debate should not be about the wider geo-political situation, but the wellbeing of children.
I completely agree. That is what I want to focus on: we are talking about children. Regardless of the crime that they have or have not committed, they should still be treated with dignity and within the constraints of the law.
The arrest process and interrogation methods referred to by Dr Carmon were described in great detail in the UK and the UNICEF reports. It is deeply disturbing that two years after the release of the UNICEF report that concluded that ill treatment appears to be “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”, the UN agency issued an update that found
“reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014.”
I thank the hon. Lady for securing this debate. In the light of what she says, would it not be appropriate for our Government to demand an independent inquiry from the Israeli Government into what is going on? That would help everyone.
The reality is that we are not in a position to demand. The purpose of this debate is to reach out a hand of friendship and to offer the skills and expertise that we have in this country on this topic, to work in partnership with Israel.
Although UNICEF is yet to release any further updates, reports issued by the US State Department, Military Court Watch and others indicate that the situation today remains substantially unchanged. It is worth recalling that 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.
As a bare minimum of protection, I urge the Minister to make representations to ensure that no child is subjected to physical or psychological violence, no child is blindfolded or painfully restrained, and no child is subject to coercive forces and threats. Any statement made as a result of torture or ill treatment must be excluded from evidence in proceedings. I ask the Minister to make inquiries to UNICEF about when the agency will release its next update, and to commend it on the important work it has done.
Two years ago, in a debate on the same subject, I referred to Israel’s policy of transferring Palestinian detainees—adults and children—from the west bank to prisons located in Israel, in violation of article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention. International law classes this activity as a war crime. In UK domestic law, the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and the International Criminal Court Act 2001 class this activity as a war crime. The latest data released by the Israeli prison service indicates that in 2017, 83% of adult detainees and 61% of child detainees were transferred and detained unlawfully. This practice affects approximately 7,000 individuals each year and it has continued for 50 years. Strikingly, however, Israeli military authorities informed UNICEF in late 2014 that they have no intention of changing this policy.
That rejection undermines the credibility of the international legal order, and therefore harms the security of us all. I have been to Ofer military court and spoken to parents. Because of the restrictions on movement and the requirement of permits to visit their children in Israel, some parents never get to see their children in prison. The unlawful transfer and detention of children in Israel is not just a legal issue but one of basic humanity. Has the Minister or anyone in his Department had any conversations that would shed light on Israel’s decision to explicitly reject the specific UNICEF recommendation? What further steps does he intend to take to encourage Israel to meet its international legal obligations on the transfer of prisoners out of occupied territory? Can the Minister ascertain how many UK citizens are currently involved, directly or indirectly, with the unlawful transfer and detention of Palestinian prisoners outside the occupied territory? What measures will he take in respect of those individuals in accordance with the law?
By now I am sure everyone is aware of the case of Ahed Tamimi, a now 17-year-old girl from the west bank village of Nabi Saleh. In December, she was arrested in the middle of the night after being filmed confronting and slapping Israeli soldiers in her village following the shooting of her 14-year-old cousin. Like all Palestinian female prisoners, Ahed has been transferred to a prison in Israel. The case is polarising: on the one hand, there are those calling for her immediate release; on the other, Israel’s minister for education calls for the military courts to impose a life sentence.
It is important that we all recall that Ahed is just one of more than 800 children arrested each year, according to the most recent data released by the military authorities. Most of these children are arrested in the middle of the night, frequently brutalised and systematically denied their legal rights. We need these children and their parents to have faith and confidence in a political solution and in due regard for the law. History has taught us that if politics and the law fail to meet the needs of the people, people turn to other solutions. The treatment of Palestinian children during arrest and detention is an issue that has been allowed to fester for too long and needs resolving. It concerns us all, because when Israel—our friend and a democratic state—breaks international law and obligations, it makes it that much harder to enforce them in respect of other countries around the world. Israel’s decisions have a global impact.
Two years have elapsed since the Minister’s predecessor explained to me and other MPs in this Chamber that the Government would fund the UK lawyers’ return to Israel to review progress on the implementation of their report recommendations. Allowing the UK lawyers to enter into constructive technical dialogue with their Israeli counterparts, where they can share the UK’s good practice, should expedite the implementation of the practical reforms that are urgently required to protect Palestinian children.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech about a lot of very complex issues. Before she sits down, will she tell us what role she envisages for non-governmental organisations and human rights organisations in some of the discussions that she thinks the Government could have with the Israeli authorities? She has talked a lot about the research they have done, but does she see a role for our human rights organisations in practical matters such as prison visits?
My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point. I have worked, as I am sure have many people in the House, with both Israeli and Palestinian organisations and international ones. They are trying to stabilise the situation and to help people come up with a practical solution that meets the needs of children and the broader needs in both countries.
I have asked many specific questions of the Minister. I know that a lot of people want to speak, so I understand that he may not be able to answer all my concerns here and now, but I would be most grateful if he wrote to me with his thoughts about those things.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am going to impose a three-minute time limit. The Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), has kindly offered to give up three or four minutes of his time, so I will call him at about 3.34 pm.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Let be start by giving some background. In 2011, in the face of riots, more than 3,000 arrests were made and more than 1,000 people were issued with criminal charges. Around half were under 21, and 26% were juveniles aged between 10 and 17. Some 21% were arrested for bottle or stone throwing. One hundred and fifty-eight male youths aged 16 or under were given custodial sentences. That is not a description of Israel; it is a description of the UK following the 2011 riots. Why has there been no Westminster Hall debate on the treatment of minors by the Palestinian authorities, the allegations of rape in Egyptian custody or the death sentences imposed on minors in Saudi Arabia?
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not.
The singling out of Israel ignores the fact that Israel faces extensive acts of terror on its territory. It ignores the fact that Israel has established military juvenile courts, shortened the period of initial remand, stressed the rights of minors, raised the age of minority to 18, enacted a statute of limitations for the prosecution of minors, given parents legal standing and strengthened legal representation for minors. It also ignores the co-operation of Israel in the light of the 2012 Foreign and Commonwealth Office-funded report. The British embassy in Israel said:
“We welcome Israel’s focus on the particular needs of this more vulnerable category of detainees”.
As far as I am aware, the pilot programme in the west bank to issue summons, easing the need to arrest at night, to which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) referred, continues. If Israel were to use civil courts instead of a military one, it would be accused of simply annexing the west bank.
Nevertheless, we must recognise that 30% of attackers against Israel—fuelled by intimidation that denies Israel the right to exist and glorifies terrorists and Nazi sympathisers—have been Palestinian minors under the age of 18. The majority were between 16 and 18. The youngest was an 11-year-old, who said after being arrested for stabbing an Israeli that he wanted to die a martyr.
Just over 300 minors are in custody after 400 violent, ideological terror attacks. That is not to be deprecated. The effect on wider civil disorder can be seen from the attack in Jerusalem on a 70-year-old Palestinian man who was mistaken for an Israeli. The use of minors in this way, driven by hate and incitement, is nothing more than the abuse of children.
Before I call the next speaker, may I ask the hon. Gentleman give a full and clear indication of his interest?
I referred to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which contains the fact that I went on a trip to the area.
Thank you very much.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing this important debate and on the comprehensive way in which she introduced it. I also commend the Minister and the Government for the leadership that they showed on this issue during Israel’s third universal periodic review at the UN Human Rights Council.
A range of bodies have made a number of core recommendations in the past six years that are relevant to the issue of military detention. The Foreign Office-commissioned “Children in Military Custody” report published in 2012 found that Israel was in breach of at least eight articles of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. In 2013, as my hon. Friend said, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern in a report that recommendations it made in 2002 and 2010 had been fully disregarded, and UNICEF published a report with 14 core recommendations, again reflecting concerns that had been raised time and again.
The Minister will know that the vast majority of those recommendations, the recommendations made in a debate in this place seven years ago and the recommendations made in the debate that my hon. Friend led just over two years ago remain unfulfilled. He will also know that in February 2016, a follow-up mission by UK lawyers to investigate the situation was cancelled because the Israeli authorities withdrew co-operation.
I know that the Minister cannot magically fix the world’s problems, even though I am sure he would like to try, but I ask him to do two specific things as a result of this debate. First, will he push for a thorough review of the implementation of the recommendations of the 2012 report commissioned by his Department, which should include seeking from Israel an assurance that it will facilitate a return mission so that those independent lawyers can assess whether, and if so how, things have changed since their first report and what will happen in the future? Secondly, will he follow through on the Government’s approach to Israel’s third universal periodic review last month? I would appreciate it if, as part of that, the Minister outlined how he intends to follow up on the recommendations I mentioned. The Government were absolutely right to call for Israel to put right these problems. The question is what is done about them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for securing the debate. I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which includes a trip that I took to the region in 2016.
I believe in human rights for all people around the world, and Palestinian children are no exception. Israeli authorities, be they military or civilian, have a duty to uphold those human rights and to ensure that their justice system is fair and proportionate. The UK Government were therefore right to raise concerns with the Israeli authorities, and we should continue to engage with Israel to improve its practices. As ever, the ultimate solution to these problems is a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and I welcome the fact that this Government continue to advocate for both sides to return to the negotiating table and resume peace talks.
However, we should be careful not to fall into the trap of accepting the simplistic narrative of anti-Israel propagandists. This complex issue cannot be solved with a round of Israel bashing. The Palestinian Authority rules over a society where it is easy for a child to be led into accepting terrorist ideology. The Palestinian Authority—not Hamas, but the so-called moderates in the Palestinian Authority—name schools after terrorists, give them honours and pay them monthly salaries. At the same time, they delegitimise the existence of the state of Israel and the Jewish presence in the region, and deny the Jewish connection to much of the region’s history.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I only have three minutes.
Is it any surprise, then, that some young Palestinians are becoming so radicalised that they are willing to engage in or incite terror? Since 2015, dozens of terrorist stabbings have been perpetrated by Palestinians under the age of 17. If we criticise Israel, we must also criticise the Palestinian Authority, whose security forces’ record with children leaves a lot to be desired. In that region alone, we must also criticise Saudi Arabia for executing children, Iran for executing people who were arrested when they were children, and Egypt for—according to Human Rights Watch—allegedly torturing children.
Yes, let us call for Israel to improve its practices and uphold the human rights of Palestinian children, but let us also acknowledge the complexities that Israel faces. Let us stand up for the rights of children worldwide. Let us also call for the Palestinian Authority to stop honouring terrorists and build a society where children are less easily radicalised. When we act with respect and consistency, we may find we get better results.
It is a pleasure to speak in such an important debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing it.
It is important that this debate is grounded in, and based on, human rights for children. The glaring gaps in basic human rights protection for Palestinian children held in Israel’s military detention system damages respect for the international rule of law and creates an environment that enables routine ill treatment and lack of justice. As we have already heard, the majority of children are taken from their homes in the occupied west bank during the middle of the night. Heavily armed soldiers take the children away and several hours later they turn up in detention or interrogation centres alone, sleep-deprived, bruised and scared.
Interrogations tend to be coercive and include verbal abuse, threats and physical violence that ultimately result in a confession. Even if we argue that 16 to 17-year-olds are not children, which is incorrect, we must accept that any form of human rights abuse is abhorrent and should not be condoned in any way. Most Palestinian minors arrested by Israel claim to have experienced physical violence during detention. Recently the Defence for Children International Palestine detailed the scale of incidents and the type of abuse experienced by the Palestinian children whom they managed to speak to during around 60 visits to Israeli prisons in 2017.
Some 75% of children were subject to physical abuse, 25% were denied adequate food and 100% were denied the right to have their families at their interrogation. That is not something new. According to the latest data provided by the Israeli prison service, at the end of November, 313 children—I am talking about children—were held in military detention. Data for December 2017 have not been provided, but I suspect there will be a bit of a spike following Mr Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
As a grandma and a mum, it shocks and disturbs me that people, never mind children, are treated in such an appalling way. Colleagues need to ask themselves whether they think it is acceptable to label a child as a terrorist, and I urge the Minister to use all his powers—
I am grateful to be called to speak in this debate on a very important issue about which hundreds of my constituents in Edinburgh South West write to me on a regular basis.
In October 2016, I visited the west bank on a cross-party parliamentary delegation with the Council for Arab-British Understanding and Human Appeal. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in that regard. I visited the military court at Ofer. As a lawyer of 25 years’ standing, I was not impressed with what I saw there, because of the lack of due process and the lack of respect for basic human rights norms.
To give one example, we observed the trial of a young Palestinian man for allegedly throwing stones at a settler car. The man’s interrogator, who the defendant claimed had assaulted him during interrogation, was in court as a witness, with his gun casually slung in the back pocket of his jeans. It was claimed that the interrogation was conducted in Arabic and that alongside the statement an audio recording was taken. However, the audio recording was nowhere to be found, and the level of the interrogator’s Arabic was revealed to be insufficient to be able to obtain and record a fair and accurate statement. The only transcript of the interview was in Hebrew. In a fair trial in a democracy that respects the rule of law, that case would have been thrown out. It was not, and that is the gravamen of the issue here.
The issue is not about military law, because sadly the west bank is under a hostile occupation, and occupations require military law—although they are meant to be temporary, and this one has lasted 50 years. However, having military courts is no excuse for disregarding the proper rules of justice and legal safeguards, particularly for children, but also for adults. There should be proper accounting for the physical and mental maturity of the detainees and an awareness of the long-term consequences of actions on children. That is not the case for Palestinian children in Israel’s judicial system under military law in the west bank, and something needs to be done about it. I have been an MP for less than three years, and I remember when the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), whom I congratulate, secured a debate on this issue two years ago and we seem to be absolutely no further forward.
I know the Minister is an honourable man and that he takes his duties very seriously, particularly in this area. I am not speaking as a result of what I witnessed, but on behalf of hundreds of constituents who write to me about this matter regularly and feel passionately about it because they believe in human rights, due process and the rule of law. I look forward to hearing what the Minister is going to do about it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), whom I know well and like a lot. The way in which she presented the debate this afternoon was in many ways consensual. She acknowledged there had been changes in Israel. However, I would take her to task on some of the things she did not say. The frustrating thing about debates on this subject is that they become divisive—you either believe in human rights or you don’t. On this particular issue, we have to understand not only what is happening on the ground, but the context in which Israel operates the military courts.
As the hon. Lady said, there have been some changes, such as establishing the juvenile military courts and piloting a programme of issuing summonses to minors instead of arresting them in their homes. Those are things we should encourage. I know the Minister will seek to encourage such things, but we should also understand that those are not simple things to implement in a hothouse part of the world.
Many people raise the issues that have been roundly denied and debunked, such as the issue of statements being made only in Hebrew, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell). There have been plenty of examples of the improper conduct of investigations resulting in cases being thrown out, and any claim that a confession has been gained incorrectly results in an independent review, which is exactly as the process should be.
I do not have long to speak, so I will talk about context. There are a couple of things that the hon. Lady did not talk about. My hon. Friends the Members for Henley and for Aberdeen South (Ross Thomson) mentioned earlier how children and juveniles are being used in the conflict. If it were in any other part of the world, we would call some of those people child soldiers and we would be concerned about how they were being wound up and forced towards violent behaviour.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No. I do not have time.
We must tackle the issue of Palestinian incitement as part of the debate, and the same goes for the lack of engagement from the west bank authorities for non-custodial sentences. We should also talk in these debates about what we can do as parliamentarians. I am proud to take a pro-Israel position. I am not anti-Palestinian—I consider myself to be pro-both—but those of us who take a more nuanced view on Israel should also talk about what we can do as parliamentarians, using our aid budget and all the rest of it, to bring people together, because that is the best way to bring an end to the conflict. I used to be a teacher and I know young people are quite positive and open-minded. Yes, there are concerns, which I hope the Minister will address, but things have happened, and we also have to remember the difficult context in which Israel is operating.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.
The detention and trial of a child is a tragedy whenever it occurs. However, I am concerned that this debate is symptomatic of the disproportionate and unfair focus on Israel that is all too prevalent in the media, international institutions and this House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) said—I congratulate her on obtaining the debate—this is the second debate in two years. However, we have not debated the fate, for instance, of child prisoners in Iran, where Amnesty International estimates there are at least 80 individuals on death row for crimes allegedly committed when they were under 18, or indeed the fate of others in Egypt, the Maldives, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Yemen, which have all sentenced juvenile offenders to death since 2010. Israel is, of course, a liberal democracy, and should be held to a higher standard than the likes of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. We have also never discussed the fate of the 60,000 children locked up in juvenile detention facilities in the United States—many for truanting, under-age drinking or consensual sexual conduct—or the fact that, adjusted for size of population, 5.5 times more minors were arrested in 2015-16 in England and Wales than in the west bank by Israel.
None of that is to suggest that the plight of Palestinian children in the tragic conflict there is not important, but we must make clear our deep and continuing concern at the Palestinian Authority’s policy of inciting violence —a policy intentionally aimed at children and young people.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will not.
We see that policy in the naming of schools and sports tournaments after terrorists; in the newly revised curriculum, which asks students, as a maths exercise, to calculate the number of martyrs in Palestinian uprisings; and in the countless examples of anti-Semitism that litter children’s TV programmes on official Palestinian Authority TV.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will not, at this point.
We must register our deep and continuing concern at the Palestinian leadership’s attempt to recruit children into committing acts of violence. In December Fatah posted a photograph to its Twitter account of a young boy hurling rocks with a slingshot, together with a guide to how best to throw a rock. Let us remember that Yehuda Haim Shoham, one year-old Jonathan Palmer and three-year-old Adele Biton were all killed as a result of stones being thrown at cars they were travelling in.
Finally, it is important that we show our deep and continuing concern at the recruitment of children into Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. As Child Soldiers International has stated:
“Children received military training and are used as messengers and couriers, and in some cases as fighters and suicide bombers.”
If we do not acknowledge and address those very serious issues, we run the risk of this debate being seen less as a matter of the welfare of Palestinian children and more as simply another opportunity to attack Israel.
It is important to provide some context to the issue. Many things have been raised this afternoon, but I shall concentrate on just one. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) raised the case of 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi. We all know what has happened to her now that she has been imprisoned, but I wonder whether hon. Members know what she said on Facebook straight after slapping an Israeli soldier. Out of earshot of the soldier, Ahed turned to the camera and said in Arabic:
“I wish that everybody all over the world would unite, so we can liberate Palestine...Be it stabbings, martyrdom-seeking operations, throwing stones, everyone must do his part and we must unite in order for our message to be heard that we want to liberate Palestine”.
I know what “martyrdom-seeking operations” means, and I am sure many other hon. Members do; that is why she was charged with inciting violence on social media.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not, at the moment.
I hope that the Minister shares my concern at the fact that a key part of that sad incident has gone largely unreported, and that such sentiments are a product of the hate-filled rhetoric of the Palestinian Authority, rather than being those of a 16-year-old child.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, thank you.
Ahed was 16 when she was arrested—[Interruption.] It is quite sad that some hon. Members find this amusing. I certainly do not. She was 16 when she was arrested in December. As far as I am aware, it is official Labour party policy to extend the vote to everyone over 16. Do Opposition Members believe that 16-year-olds should be held accountable for their actions or not? Whether it is stone-throwing, incitement to hatred or martyrdom operations—those are terrorist acts.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way, as I gave way to him?
I will not give way.
Those are terrorist acts. There is a judiciary in Israel, and it is better for politicians in this country, and indeed in Israel, not to involve themselves in the judicial process. As has already been stated, there have been occasions when cases were thrown out because the evidence was not there. We must leave Israel to decide its own future, live in peace and security, and have its own laws of the land. We do not need hon. Members who are taking part in this debate to tell Israel how to live its life.
It is timely that you have called me to speak now, Mr Stringer, because I too want to speak about the case of Ahed Tamimi. I met her in her home at Nabi Saleh in November, a few weeks before she was arrested. She is an ordinary teenager who has not been groomed as has been suggested by some speakers. [Interruption.]
Perhaps hon. Members will hear me out. She is an ordinary teenager living in extraordinary circumstances, to which we need to pay some attention.
Nabi Saleh, an ancient village nestling among the citrus groves on the hillside north of Ramallah, dates back hundreds of years. It was recently joined by the illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish, which has taken much of its land. Someone standing in Nabi Saleh can look across the valley to Halamish on the neighbouring hilltop and begin to understand the sense of grievance. Halamish is well irrigated, with swimming pools and a proper water supply, which come at a cost to the people of Nabi Saleh, whose water has been rationed to a few hours a week. At the bottom of the valley is a spring, which has traditionally served Nabi Saleh, but which was requisitioned by the settlement. That has led to weekly protests by the villagers over the past four years.
Last December, during a protest, Ahed’s cousin Mohammed climbed a ladder to look over a wall. A soldier immediately took aim and a bullet passed through Mohammed’s head. When the same soldier turned up in the courtyard of her home on a night raid at 3.30 am on 19 December, Ahed and a cousin went out and shouted at them. The BBC broadcast a film of the incident last week on the main news. The soldier pushed her aside, and in retaliation Ahed slapped him. It was for that that she was arrested and charged with assault. She has been in jail ever since—for the past seven weeks. She was 16 at the time of her arrest. She marked her birthday in jail and is now 17. Yesterday the case was due in court. It was postponed again and will be heard next Tuesday, so now is the time to act.
I know that the Minister knows the Tamimi family and has, like me, visited Nabi Saleh, and shares many of my concerns. In answer to questions, he has said that the Government have made representations. I should like him to outline what action the Government will take in the next week and to demand Ahed’s release. [Interruption.]
Order. I ask those in the Public Gallery not to intervene either vocally or by applause.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.
The failure of Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a two-state solution to their conflict has resulted in a disturbing situation, including what we are discussing today; but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved only by direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians —not by the Palestinian Authority’s incitement of young people to hate and kill, as is happening on the west bank today. Such incitement is specifically in breach of the Geneva conventions.
We must remember that 75% of the offences committed by Palestinian minors are violent crimes, including murder, attempted murder, shooting, making and throwing Molotov cocktails, and attacking soldiers. Thirty per cent. of assailants in the terror attacks of 2016 were under 18 years old. The youngest was 11. For example, in June 2016, 13-year-old Hallel Ariel was stabbed to death by Nasser Tarayrah, a 17-year-old Palestinian, who climbed into her home and stabbed her repeatedly in a frenzied attack in front of her younger siblings.
Such violence has been encouraged by the Palestinian leadership, in direct contravention of the Geneva convention, which specifically prohibits the recruitment and involvement of children in terrorist activities. Fatah recently tweeted a practical guide to show young people how to throw rocks, which were euphemistically called “stones”. That has resulted in the murder of young people, including Yehuda Haim Shoham, aged five months. The Palestinian Authority incites hatred towards Jews and Israelis. In its October issue, the Palestinian youth magazine, Zayzafuna, claimed that Mohammed sanctified the throwing of rocks at Jews. Terrorists are glorified. A recent report by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education—IMPACT-se—shows schoolbooks that glorify violence and martyrdom. The Palestinian Authority’s rewritten 2017 curriculum teaches children about its support for people who carry out terrorist attacks. In May 2015, a PA TV programme, “The Best Home”, showed a girl who recited a poem that called Jews
“barbaric monkeys who murdered Allah’s pious prophets.”
If young people are continually told that murderous terrorists are heroes, it is not surprising that they try to emulate them. Nobody can be content with the current situation, and all individual allegations of any injustice must be investigated. However, the answer is to negotiate peace, not to glorify hatred and violence by telling young people and children that murdering Israelis is justified resistance.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing it.
At the end of November 2017, 313 Palestinian children were held in Israeli prisons, and three out of four of them will have experienced violence during their arrest. The majority of children will be arrested in the middle of the night, when heavily armed police break into their homes and drive them to a military detention centre where they will be interrogated. Many report being beaten and abused after their arrest and while in detention. Children are often interrogated without their parents or a lawyer present. Under military law children can be held in detention for 90 days without seeing a lawyer, and as of this year two children are held under “administrative detention”, which is indefinite imprisonment without trial. Currently, more than 180 children are held in detention without having been convicted. Under the occupation, children can be held for one and a half years before their case goes to trial.
There are two legal systems in the occupied territories. If an Israeli settler is arrested, they will be tried under Israeli civilian criminal law; if a Palestinian is arrested, they are tried in a separate military court. Access to justice is segregated. A child’s nationality and ethnicity determine the type of justice that they receive under Israel’s occupation. After sentencing, nearly 60% of Palestinian child detainees are transferred from the occupied territories to the prisons of Israel, in violation of the fourth Geneva convention. That means that most will be unable to receive family visits, due to the freedom of movement restrictions placed on Palestinians and the long time that it takes to issue a visiting permit.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will not.
If, step by step, we go through 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—one thing become clear: this system is designed to repress, crush and intimidate generation after generation of Palestinians.
The military detention of children is a legal issue, and Israel is in breach of international law—namely the UN convention on the rights of the child and the Geneva convention. There is, of course, a deeper problem, because such detention is part of the cycle of humiliation and violence that characterises the continued illegal occupation of Palestine. That is a disgrace and should be condemned.
Finally, I wish to show my solidarity with Ahed Tamimi. 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.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and I congratulate all Members who have contributed to the debate, and especially the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on her powerful and detailed speech. I will leave the Minister as much time as possible to respond to her concerns.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) pointed out, this issue is of huge concern to many of our constituents. We are dealing with basic questions about the rights of the child and the importance of the global conventions that govern them, as well as with specific questions about the role and actions of the Israeli Government.
The SNP condemns the arrest, detention and prosecution of Palestinian children by the Israeli Government, and we are deeply concerned about the increase in the number of children who have been detained as a result of the escalation of tensions in the territory. Estimates for the number of cases vary, but they are clearly into the hundreds, and the reports of people’s experiences—night arrests, strip searches, blindfolds—are extremely concerning, as are reports of children being denied access to due legal process and lawyers. As the hon. Member for Rotherham said when opening this debate, such treatment is unacceptable on a basic human level, even before considering conventions and international human rights obligations.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am not giving way.
Israel has ratified the UN convention on the rights of the child and the optional protocol on children and armed conflict, but it has been slow to incorporate the principles and provisions of the convention into its domestic legal system. In 2013, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child was clear that Israeli actions constituted
“violations of the rights of Palestinian children and their families, feed the cycle of humiliation and violence and jeopardise a peaceful and stable future for all children of the region.”
Constituents have raised with me the specific case of Ahed Tamimi, and the hon. Members for Rotherham, for Hendon (Dr Offord) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) all spoke about that case in different ways. In some ways that shows why this case has become symbolic—perhaps even metaphoric—for the broader conflict. It involves well-resourced, heavily armed and armoured soldiers on one hand, and, on the other hand a young, unarmed girl who is causing a bit of a nuisance and slapping those soldiers about. That has ended in her arrest, and the polarised views that that has caused. I agree that violence never solves anything, but a relatively minor incident has spiralled into something much bigger and triggered many further consequences and polarised perspectives.
Amnesty International, and others, are clear that the treatment of Ahed does not respect her human rights or fulfil Israel’s obligations under the UNCRC. Indeed, Amnesty says that nothing she has done can justify her continued detention, and it has called for her immediate release. It is clear from my mailbag, and from Members who have spoken in this debate, that the public want action from the UK Government, and for them to use their influence to call for action by the Israeli Government. I know the Minister does his best, and we are not expecting him to resolve a conflict that has been going on for decades, but it is important that the Government condemn in the strongest possible terms the mistreatment of children all around the world. They should also guarantee that UK funds will not support the military detention, interrogation, abuse or ill-treatment of Palestinian children. What dialogue are the Government having with the Government of Israel about how they intend to incorporate their obligations under the conventions into domestic law? More specifically, how will the Israeli Government take forward the recommendations in the various reports that have been referred to?
The SNP accepts that the Palestinian conflict is complex, and there are real sensitivities on all sides. However, the rights of the child are enshrined in international law and convention, and as the hon. Member for Blackburn (Kate Hollern) said—these days I do not see her on the train heading south as often as I used to—children are the victims of conflict, not parties to it. The rights and dignity of children in conflict must be upheld and protected.
Some Members asked about children involved in conflicts elsewhere in the world. Of course we should look at that, and if Members want to secure a debate on the human rights situation in other countries, I know that other Members—I have taken part in enough such debates—will speak out and condemn the situation in those countries.
The Government of Israel have a duty to live up to the protocols and conventions they have signed, and if progress is to be made in reaching a peaceful solution, surely a starting point must include taking children out of the equation. It is clear that there is a global public outcry against the detention of Palestinian children by the Israeli Government. The Israeli Government must act, and the UK Government must use their influence to help bring that about.
We have had a passionate and wide-ranging debate on an issue that affects children. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing it. She started her speech with an important statement when she said that she was not making a judgment on the alleged crimes that a Palestinian child may have committed, or on Israel’s right to act to uphold the law. This debate has been about the way that children have been treated by a democracy that is widely respected around the world as open, democratic, and subject to the rule of law.
My hon. Friend said that half a decade after the UNICEF and UK lawyers’ report was published, there has been limited implementation of its recommendations by the authorities, which I am sure we all agree is regrettable. She mentioned that there is another fundamental legal right that Palestinian children arrested by the Israeli authorities do not have: timely access to legal representation, which we would all agree is an important aspect of the rule of law in any nation. She also said it is both extraordinary and disconcerting that Israel’s military court system has a conviction rate of 95%, according to its own figures. We must then question whether justice really is being done.
My hon. Friend urged the Minister—I add my voice and that of Labour—that, as a bare minimum of protection, no child, whether in Israel, Palestine or anywhere else in the world, should be subjected to physical or psychological violence, blindfolded or painfully restrained, or subjected to coercive force or threats. That should be universal. I hope that Israel, above all countries in the world, would adhere to that.
We have heard powerful contributions from many right hon. and hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell). My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) has a strong record in upholding the cause of a Palestinian state living side by side with the state of Israel. He asked the Minister to press for a review of the recommendations of the 2012 report, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman can offer us something on that.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Ross Thomson) said that we must criticise the Palestinian Authority if we criticise Israel on its treatment of children. Yes, of course we must, because this is universal. This is not just about Israel; it is about every country in the world that supposes itself to uphold the rule of law upholding the rights of the child, too. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Kate Hollern) made a good speech, as did the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) pointed to the context in which Israel operates its military courts and mentioned child soldiers. I suggest to him that the way in which children are treated by Israel in the Palestinian territories is rather different from the recruitment of child soldiers in parts of Africa we have seen in recent decades.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) rightly talked about the detention and trial of a child being a tragedy wherever it takes place, and she compared the situation in the occupied territories with that in Iran and Saudi Arabia. We have had debates in this Chamber on human rights and especially the rights of the child in Iran. The hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) knows a great deal about the subject, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) set out the tragic case of Ahed Tamimi, who he met in Nabi Saleh, her own village. He made clear the context in which her arrest took place, which to me and others seemed a gross overreaction to her behaviour.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) always makes a rational contribution to any debate on Israel and Palestine. She pointed out that 30% of terror attacks on Israelis are carried out by Palestinians under 18, and that the Palestinian authorities incite hatred against Israelis and Jews. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) made a powerful contribution.
I will be as brief as possible because we want to hear from the Minister, but from the official Opposition’s point of view, as in any debate on issues relating to Israel and Palestine, it is important to think about the context in which these children find themselves. I ask the Minister and hon. Members to consider this question: how much has changed since my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham introduced her first debate on this issue in December 2016 in Westminster Hall? Have things got better, or have they got worse?
We have heard about the 50 years of occupation of the Palestinian territories and the increasing expansion of settlements that are illegal under international law. We heard that there is no plausible ongoing peace process, and of course we know about Donald Trump’s attempts to help the situation as he sees it by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which has sparked the resurgence of tensions all over the region—not just in the occupied territories and Palestinian areas but in Jordan and other countries. There have also been cuts by the United States to United Nations Relief and Works Agency funding, which has jeopardised the schooling and healthcare of Palestinian refugees all across the middle east, including around 500,000 children who are being educated in UNRWA schools.
The prospect of a two-state solution, which I am sure every Member in the Chamber supports, seems to be increasingly far off. As hon. Members will know, the Labour party has a strong policy of recognising the state of Palestine as an attempt to help the process of a two-state solution. Back in November, when I visited the region with the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), we met Israeli and Palestinian politicians, who are struggling to engage with young people in the area. A generation is being badly let down by their own leaders.
Members have reflected on the numerous problems in the system that allow child prisoners to be kept. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) was with us when we met children in the occupied territories last November. He referred to arrests, which are often made late at night, and often in Hebrew, which is traumatic for the families concerned. There is a disparity in the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian children in the way in which evidence is collected, and many other disparities between the treatment of settler children, who are Israelis under Israeli law, and Palestinian children, who are treated under military law.
Finally—I want to give the Minister enough time to respond to the many questions—there is a long-term problem in the increases in hostility between the Israel defence forces and Palestinian children under 18 years old. When I was in Qalandiya in November with the shadow Foreign Secretary, we heard first hand from a 14-year-old girl who had been arrested for posting critical comments on Facebook, having witnessed her brother’s arrest in the middle of the night. Those children are the future leaders of a Palestinian state. What future awaits people on both sides if they grow up to fear and despise their Israeli peers for the treatment they received? Following the 2012 report, will the Government commit to make funding available for another report? What progress has been made since 2016 to press the Israelis to allow those lawyers to make a return visit?
Before I call the Minister, the proposer of the motion has waived her right to reply, so the Minister has until 4 o’clock.
Thank you, Mr Stringer. As a fellow Manchester man, it is as always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for initiating the debate and all colleagues who spoke. I will not be able to refer to each speech in the manner of the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), who did a remarkable job to cover as much ground as he did, but I will refer to what I can.
The hon. Lady made a comprehensive and forensic speech. I will take her up on the offer of responding to a number of questions by letter, which I am happy to make available to any colleague. I also thank her for referring right away to the United Kingdom’s position on the universal periodic review and to note what we have sought to do in this instance. Some very hard things have been said today. Colleagues speak for themselves and must justify their own words, but suffice it to say there is an element of truth in almost everything that has been said on both sides. That should be salutary to all of us. We are talking about incitement, killing, the death of children and the loss of land—in short, the catalogue of despair and misery that has haunted these lands for much too long. We set all that in that context.
Although I will devote most of what I say to the specific issue raised by the hon. Member for Rotherham of the rights of children, let me not ignore the issue raised by a number of my hon. Friends and by the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), relating to incitement, and set my comments in that context right at the beginning. The UK strongly condemns the use of racist, hateful language that can stir up prejudice. We frequently press all sides on the need to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric. Israel and the Palestinian Authority need to prepare their populations for peaceful co-existence, including by promoting a more positive portrayal of each other. Engaging in or encouraging incitement and hateful action or language makes it more difficult to achieve a culture of peace and a negotiated solution to the conflict. We frequently press all sides on the need to refrain from those things; there are too many on each side to bring up individual occasions.
There has been a suggestion in the past of a trilateral forum in which Palestinians, Israelis and a third party can discuss specific incidents. I hope we might be able to return to that idea.
Will the Minister give way?
I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind; there is a time limit and an awful lot to get through.
As I said in the House on 9 January, Israel’s treatment of Palestinian minors, particularly the practice of holding them in military detention, remains a human rights priority for this Government, as set out in the universal periodic review. Clearly, the whole situation is inextricably mixed up with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, which is also why there are no civilian detention facilities. The situation will not be resolved until a settlement is negotiated that serves the interest of both sides. I will return to that later.
Children are entitled to special protections and due process under international humanitarian law. Those protections are reaffirmed in the UN convention on the rights of the child, to which Israel is a state party. Many of the issues raised today come fully within that convention. To take a phrase from its text:
“States Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth”.
That covers quite a lot. I do not stint in making very clear that Israel needs to live up to what is in conventions that it signs. We are talking here about everybody who is responsible, and everybody who bears the need to respond to obligations, and that is one right there.
We recognise, as a number of Members said, that Israel has made some progress toward fulfilling those obligations. It has reduced the number of detainees aged between 12 and 14, increased the age of maturity from 16 to 18, established separate juvenile courts and enacted a special statute of limitations for minors. However, our assessment is that Israel is still falling short and needs to do more to safeguard vulnerable people in its care.
In 2012, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sponsored an independent report, “Children in Military Custody”, by leading British lawyers, as has been mentioned. It made 40 specific recommendations for protecting child detainees, including that Israel should make audio-visual recording mandatory in interrogations, that it should stop using painful restraints and that it should inform detainees fully and consistently of their legal rights. To our knowledge, Israel has only implemented one of those recommendations. We have repeatedly and publicly called on Israel to fulfil its international legal obligations, and I do so again today.
In answer to the question of what we can try to do about this, I raised our concerns during my visit to Israel last summer, and our ambassador in Tel Aviv raised the issue with the Israeli Justice Minister as recently as December. We have a regular dialogue with Israeli authorities on legal issues relating to the occupation, as part of which we discuss the treatment of Palestinian children in military custody. Our “Human Rights and Democracy Report 2016” explicitly referred to Israel’s treatment of children in detention and this year’s report does likewise, as colleagues will see when it is published shortly. We also raised the issue at the United Nations universal periodic review last month, as I said, and while welcoming the positive steps that Israel has taken since the last review in 2012, we urged the Israelis to take further action to meet their obligations. We also continue to urge them to implement in full the recommendations I mentioned earlier.
Significantly, the hon. Member for Rotherham spoke about an understanding, particularly given her background, of wanting to help in this situation. It serves no one’s purpose to use the detention of minors as a weapon in this long-running dispute, and it serves nobody’s interest to defend a situation if minors are treated wrongly. It serves us all to work toward a situation where those who are engaged in detaining people for infringement of law do so only in a manner that absolutely conducive to fulfilling their obligations.
It is in that spirit that the United Kingdom continues its efforts. We are committed to helping the Israeli authorities to make the necessary changes. Last year, we invited them to attend expert discussions with the Metropolitan Police to share more than 30 years of UK experience of implementing regulations designed specifically to protect the rights of minors in detention. Do we have to arrest young people? Yes, we do, but it is all a question of how we do it and in what context. We were disappointed when our invitation was declined. It is not a threatening invitation or a condemnatory invitation, but an opportunity to put something right. It still stands, and we hope it is taken up in due course.
Turning to Ahed Tamimi, as the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) said, I do indeed know the family. I cannot recall whether I met Ahed Tamimi when I was in the village, but I know the Tamimi family. Although I cannot verify absolutely everything the hon. Gentleman says, I recognise the description of the village that he gave. It is absolutely correct. From the village people can see the settlement on the other side, and see the water that is the source of distress and discontent in the area. This case has rightly kept the issue of the mistreatment of child detainees in the spotlight. Footage of Ms Tamimi’s arrest, aged 16, for slapping an Israeli soldier has been shared widely online.
None of us was there to hear everything that was said. I know that remarks from Ms Tamimi, quoted on television in Arabic, have not been translated in a manner that her lawyer recognises, and we are not entirely sure of what was said, but the language is there. It is on television for people to hear. Her case is of concern to all of us here who know of it. I said in the House the other week that it was a sad case, and I repeat that. In answer to the many letters I have had since making my comment in the House, I do not in any way wish to excuse Ms Tamimi’s behaviour, but nor do I condone her treatment. As I said in the House, I believe that she should not have needed to do what she did, because the soldiers should not have been there. Let me explain that still further. These flashpoints are a direct consequence of the failure to reach an agreement, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, in her wisdom and long experience of this subject, rightly said. They are more evidence of how the unresolved conflict continues to blight the lives of all those involved.
It is a tragedy that each new generation, which should be growing up together in peace, continues to be divided. It is not that the Israeli soldiers did not have a right at the time to be in land they are occupying; they did. It is not that the young lady should have done what she did; she should not. But the circumstances just should not now be arising, because we should have settled this. That is as important for Israel as it is for the Palestinians. We are following developments on Ms Tamimi’s case closely and, while it is ultimately a matter for the Israeli authorities, we have raised our concerns with the Israeli ambassador here in London, and with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice in Tel Aviv.
Let me conclude as I have previous debates. I find these debates incredibly sad. We should not be having them, because the situation that gives rise to them needs to end. That can only happen with the resolution of issues by direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian people. I do not find it incompatible to believe passionately in the existence and the security of the state of Israel and in justice for the Palestinian people in lands I first visited 40 years ago, based on the efforts of peacemakers over the years. I also believe passionately that it is never too late, although it might soon be so.
The UK will do it all it can. It will make every effort and strain every sinew to work, upon the resumption of the middle east peace process, to support those who wish finally to bring that conflict to an end. Israel is a close and trusted friend of the United Kingdom. As such, we do not shy away from raising our serious concerns about the detention and treatment of minors in military facilities, but we understand the context in which Israel works, as everyone in this room does. However, the situation we have described today is just one of the many compelling reasons why we will continue to support progress toward a two-state solution. I want to see a situation in which it is no longer the case that a young IDF conscript and a Palestinian youngster have the options that they seem to have at the moment, so that they have a better chance of a better future together.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered military detention of Palestinian children by Israeli Authorities.