That this House takes note of the conditions in which Palestinian children are living and the impact on their health and wellbeing.
My Lords, I am pleased to have this opportunity to put on the parliamentary record the appalling conditions under which Palestine’s children are living in both the blockaded collective prison of Gaza and the 50-year military occupation in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. I start with a quotation from the recent memoir by the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, who was an FCO Minister in the Thatcher Government. On page 259, he draws on Avi Shlaim’s book The Iron Wall with the following words:
“Israeli thinkers have right from the beginning judged that the injustice to the Palestinians perpetrated by the establishment of their state can never in truth be rectified for those who were displaced”.
This sentiment produces the sense of outrage one feels when seeing at first hand how Palestine’s children live day by day—day in and day out.
Let me begin with Gaza, whose children have experienced three military invasions in six years. I saw the destruction wreaked in Gaza after the first two invasions but have been prevented from entering Gaza to see the results of the third. The blockade following it has prevented major reconstruction and Gaza’s children now see themselves sentenced to a lifelong collective prison sentence. During the 2014 Gaza conflict, Save the Children found that “551 children were killed”, compared with one Israeli child,
“and 3,436 were injured, of whom 10% suffered permanent disability as a result”.
The rates of stunting and long-term malnutrition remain high, while anaemia affects nearly 60% of schoolchildren and even more infants. In this collective prison, 95% of the water is unfit for human consumption. In addition, 90 million litres of untreated or partially treated sewage is dumped into the sea each day, which causes a high incidence of diseases such as typhoid and severe diarrhoea. Medical supplies are permanently in short supply, and many children live in poor accommodation, because only 1,000 homes out of the 10,000 destroyed have been rebuilt. These children now have to put up with Israeli air strikes, which recently killed two children, and see them destroy power stations. Israeli Ministers are now calling for Gaza to be cut off from water, gas and electricity.
Large swathes of the economy and the middle class have been destroyed, and a third of the schools destroyed have yet to be rebuilt. But why go to school if there are no jobs and you cannot leave the prison? Thirty percent of applications for patients, often children, to leave Gaza for medical treatment are denied. The population is increasingly dependent on humanitarian aid. UNICEF estimates that at least 373,000 children—nearly half of Gaza’s children—need specialised psychosocial support. Gaza’s children have been condemned, through no fault of their own, to a future without hope: a groundhog day of perpetual misery in an environment that the United Nations has predicted will be uninhabitable by 2020. My first question to the Minister is whether the Government accept the UN assessment of the timetable for Gaza becoming uninhabitable. In addition, what discussions are they having with the Israeli Government and the international community about collective action to prevent an impending humanitarian disaster in Gaza, especially for its children?
I turn now to the West Bank, which I visited in April with a small cross-party parliamentary group and representatives of Caabu and Medical Aid for Palestinians. I should make clear that no representative of Israel’s Government was willing to see us or to let us enter Gaza. Our Israeli contact was limited to a courageous former Israeli soldier from the Breaking the Silence movement, who escorted us around the city of Hebron. We saw at first hand how a military occupation could clear a thriving Palestinian town centre to make way for settlers, whose children had their own distinctive way of welcoming visitors, with eggs and dirty water.
On the West Bank, Palestinian children grow up in a culture of fear, intimidation, suspicion and sometimes death. We saw this most graphically when we visited a settler-firebombed house in Duma, where the parents and their child died. UNRWA has expressed concern over the daily threat of violence faced by Palestinian children. It has reported that the number of children killed in the West Bank has more than doubled in the last two years, to 31 in 2015, with things getting worse. Between October 2015 and 31 March 2016, 44 Palestinian children were killed. UNRWA has drawn attention to the increasing use of force and live ammunition by the Israeli security forces.
On 30 April this year, 414 Palestinian children were in a military prison, with 48% of them held in Israel, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Military Court Watch says that the number of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces has risen by 156% since September 2015. Many of these children are beaten and held in unsafe and abusive conditions, without access to parents or lawyers. Most of them are arrested for throwing stones—an offence that under Military Order 1651 carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, or 20 years if the stone is thrown at a moving vehicle. Usually, however, they will usually be in custody for about four months. If not detained at the scene of the offence, they will have been picked up later, often during a terrifying raid on their family home by Israeli soldiers in the middle of the night. They may have been given up by a Palestinian informant, possibly under duress, to the network of local military intelligence officers. It makes little difference whether they are guilty, because they will plead guilty anyway to avoid a longer time in prison. Their guilty plea will usually have been obtained without a lawyer or adult present and often in a sleep-deprived state. When they come to court, as I saw at the Ofer military court, they will shuffle in with their hands tied and their feet manacled.
Nominally, this is a separate juvenile court, but the military judge and prosecutor court process is exactly the same for juveniles as adults. Witnesses and evidence are conspicuous by their absence: who needs them in a system in which everyone pleads guilty? Once he has made sure that he has the right person, the judge quickly pronounces verdict and sentence—it all takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
Even when the young person gets out of custody, he may be returning home to more trouble if he is living in one of the 600 Palestinian structures demolished in the first four months of 2016. These demolitions made 800 Palestinians homeless, half of them children. We could hear the explosions for demolitions while we were there. Sometimes, demolished structures were funded by international aid, including British taxpayers. There are now more than 11,000 approved demolition orders which the Israeli military can choose to implement whenever they like with virtually no notice. Palestinian children often take their favourite toy to school in case their home is gone on their return.
Of course, from the perspective of the Israeli Government, this nearly 50 year-old military occupation and system has been very effective in controlling 2.7 million Palestinians who live on the West Bank while protecting the 400,000 Israelis who have settled there illegally since 1967. This figure excludes 200,000 illegal settlers in east Jerusalem. There are now 125 of these settlements —in reality, towns—sanctioned by the Israeli Government, and more than 100 so-called outposts which in turn will expand into settlements. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, this settler population is expanding at more than three times the rate of the Israeli population as a whole. I experienced these settlements in April, often cheek by jowl with long-established Palestinian settlements, whose movement, water and agriculture are often disrupted. Palestinian children and young people watch their land being removed from them before their eyes, with their older generations and the Palestinian Government powerless to do anything about it because this is a military occupation focused on protecting settlers.
I close with a quotation about the psychological state of Palestine’s children from an expert psychiatric report commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel from Dr Graciela Carmon. She writes:
“These interrogation methods, when applied to children and adolescents, are equivalent to torture … The social and mental consequences of the use of the aforementioned methods of detention and interrogation by the investigating and/or detaining authority for the life of the child or adolescent are difficult to remedy and damaging. They can cause serious mental suffering to a child or adolescent and cause psychological and psychiatric problem, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder … psychosomatic diseases, fits of anger, difficulties in learning and concentration, memory problems, fears and anxieties, sleep disorders, eating disorders, regressive symptoms, and bedwetting. Such outcomes are devastating to the normative development of the child or adolescent, especially when he or she is innocent. 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”.
I conclude by putting a question to the Minister for this new Government about their approach to the Israeli Government over this situation. Will they keep trundling along the path of recent years, whereby the FCO commission’s reports from experts ably led by people such as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, with FCO Ministers raising concerns with the Israeli Government—occasionally securing small procedural improvements, I acknowledge, but they are rarely implemented by the Israeli security forces on the ground? Or are they, as part of improving the UK’s international reputation for respecting the rule of law, going to start challenging the Israeli Government over their daily breaches of international law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention? Which course they choose has implications not only for Palestine’s children but also for our own credibility with other transgressors of international law, such as Russia in Crimea and China in the South China Sea.
When children are seriously damaged and have no sense of hope, as Palestine’s children increasingly are, they become adults with nothing to lose, who can all too easily turn to a path of violence against their oppressors and those who collude with them. The Government need to think very carefully about which path they choose on this issue.
The Minister may also wish to clarify at some stage why the House of Lords Library briefing for this debate was withdrawn after being put up on its website for about 24 hours. I beg to move.
My Lords, we are—most of us, at any rate, I suspect—grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for securing this debate and for the direct way in which he introduced it. I have explained before that my involvement with Palestine, which is now for nearly 50 years, is because my wife was born in Jerusalem, into a family of western Christians. Her wider family still own the house, now the American Colony Hotel, where they have lived for over a century and, without moving house, have lived in four different countries de facto. Her grandmother started the Spafford Children’s Center in the Old City about 90 years ago and, there and in Bethany, it does great psycho-social and medical work, helping to mitigate exactly the strains among Palestine’s children that the noble Lord described.
I have seen all that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, spoke about over almost 50 years, but I want to bring some hope into today’s debate by talking about an educational body with which I am involved, the Palestine Music Conservatory. It does wonderful work, teaching both classical and Arabic music from the basics up to concert standard. The headquarters are in Jerusalem and there are branches in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus and Gaza, with outreach, particularly choirs, into other districts. Music moves hearts.
I support this work as chairman of the UK friends of the conservatory. We agreed—rashly, you may well think—to sponsor a UK tour by the Palestine Youth Orchestra; it is 80-strong, so it is a very large undertaking for a small charity, but it is happening. We had to wade through plenty of UK bureaucracy to get the necessary visas. Travel is always a problem for Palestinians, even within their own country. The orchestra cannot rehearse together fully in its homeland. But it is happening, with help from numerous friends and bodies.
As we speak, the orchestra is in Glasgow, rehearsing at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland—actually, it is just about to stop for lunch. Its first concert of the tour is in Perth on Monday and, on Tuesday, it will play for the conference of the International Society for Music Education in the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow. Then there are concerts in Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff and, finally, on l August in the Royal Festival Hall. I have full particulars and, if anybody is interested, tickets for sale. Under the baton of Sian Edwards, it will play Beethoven, Mussorgsky, some new British music by Graham Fitkin, and some Arabic songs with a lovely soloist called Nai Barghouti.
Given the background of their lives, imagine what inspiration a tour such as this can bring into these young lives and those who hear them. Appreciate, too, the depth of enthusiasm and dedication and the endless practice required for years to reach the required standard.
Music opens hearts, as I said, but not quite all hearts. Two 15 year-old students of the Gaza Music School passed auditions to join the tour, necessarily by Skype, as it is the only way they can do it. We got them visas for the UK, but they were refused permission to leave Gaza for the two weeks of the tour by the Israeli occupying power. I was told it sometimes gives permission to leave for medical or educational reasons but that participation in the tour was insufficient reason. What a blind counterproductive cruelty that is.
I want straightaway to thank my noble friends Lord Polak and Lord Leigh of Hurley for their ready response when I asked for help in this matter. The Israeli ambassador took a personal interest, but the decision stood. That one small act, or rather refusal, illustrates the monster prison camp that Gaza has become for adults and children alike.
However, many Gazans are not prepared to be defined only by their struggle for survival. A programme on BBC World and a related piece on radio showed the Gaza Music School in wonderful programmes last year about the last grand piano in Gaza. I recommend the programmes. They are still available, I think, if you can get your grandchildren to assist you. Amid the wreckage of a theatre smashed in the latest war, a concert grand piano survived, undamaged by the shelling but ruined by its resulting exposure to the elements. The programmes showed its restoration by a French expert, assisted by two Palestinian apprentices. The climax was a Beethoven sonata, beautifully played by a 15 year-old from the Gaza Music School. In her interview with Tim Whewell of the BBC, the young pianist said:
““Music might not build you a house or give you your loved-ones back, but it makes you feel better, so that’s why I just keep playing it”.
My Lords, we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about the health and well-being of Palestinian children. I am sure I and other Peers speaking in this debate want better conditions for all children worldwide and deplore anything that creates inferior conditions. What I will stress does not detract from the issues, conditions, health and well-being of Palestinians but gives a context missing from the words of the noble Lord, Lord Warner.
Infant mortality rates out of 1,000 are, sadly, 15.9 in the West Bank, 18.3 in Gaza and 4.2 in Israel. There are 121 countries ranked worse than the West Bank, and 108 ranked worse than Gaza. Infant mortality in Angola is an amazing 180 out of 1,000. In Nigeria it is 94, in Pakistan it is 65, in Turkey it is 25.7. On the Human Development Index, which is calculated on healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living—with a score of 1 being the most developed—Palestine ranks 113th out of 188 nations at 0.68. This is roughly the same as for Egypt, and is the average for Arab states. It compares with 0.61 for India and 0.54 for Pakistan.
The Minister, whom I welcome to her place, is a great expert, I understand, on trade with Pakistan. My question to her and the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about the conditions of children is: are we going to have a debate on any of the other 188 nations, some of which I have described? I stress that the conditions of many of these nations need to be improved, very much including the conditions and outcomes for the Palestinians.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, paints a picture of a bottle half empty. I would like to paint a picture that, while it could be improved, is of a bottle half full. When the noble Lord, Lord Cope, talks about youth music, he gives such an instance of things that can be and are being done.
Many Palestinian children are brought to Israel and treated in Israeli hospitals. Some of these are children of Hamas officials. In 2014, the daughter of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, was allowed to exit the strip just after Israel’s operations. The Israel charity Save a Child’s Heart—SACH—brings children from around the world, including Gaza and the West Bank, to Israel for life-saving heart surgery that they would otherwise not receive. Israel continued to permit children and family members to travel to the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon at the height of the 2014 conflict in Gaza with Hamas.
There are many SACH stories, and I shall give the House just a couple of them. Rumaisa was born in August 2014. At nine days old, she was rushed from Gaza to the paediatric intensive care unit of the Wolfson Medical Center in critical condition at the height of the 2014 conflict. After her condition stabilised, she underwent life-saving cardiac surgery. Her recovery went well, and not long after that surgery she and her grandmother returned to Gaza.
Kamal was born in May 2012. At two years old, he returned to the Wolfson Medical Center with his grandmother for his third surgery. When he was two days old, he was taken to the doctor in Gaza because of cyanosis and difficulty breathing. A year later, he had his second surgery because he was still having difficulty breathing. Post surgery, Kamal is doing well.
DfID is considering giving UK funding to Save a Child’s Heart. Could the Minister say whether there is any progress on putting such funding towards saving the lives of many children, including Palestinian children?
Ahmed, 18, and Hadeel Hamdan, 15, have been frequent visitors to the Rambam hospital in Haifa since 2012. They spend 12 hours a day on dialysis—treatment unavailable for them in Gaza.
Some Gaza children are not guaranteed the same privileges. Hamas prevented three Gazan children from travelling to Israel for life-saving treatment; they were children aged five, 10 and 12 who suffer from systemic arthritis, which has the potential to be life-threatening without proper treatment. The children had been permitted to travel to Israel once a month for an injection, and the situation was improving until Hamas denied them the ability to leave the strip.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to the psychiatric problems of Palestinian children. I recently visited towns and farming moshavs in Israel near the border with Gaza. Every house, flat and school has a safe room with reinforced walls and ceilings. Every bus stop in that area within Israel near Gaza is a bomb shelter. Can other noble Lords appreciate what this does to the psychiatric well-being of those Israeli children? A mother said to me that her child went to visit relations in central Israel and asked her hosts, “Where is the safe room?”, accustomed as she was to this sad way of life.
Palestinian infant mortality rates fall in the middle of world tables. They are still bad, but the rates in Gaza and the West Bank are better than those in China, Romania, Turkey and South Africa, from all official statistics. According to the Human Development Index, Palestine is more developed than India and Pakistan while also being close to the average HDI for all Arab states. Many children, as I have said, are treated in Israel, including family members of Hamas leaders and so on.
Hamas also utilises child labour in dangerous environments, such as the construction of its terror tunnels. In total, 160 individuals have died while constructing those tunnels since 2012, and it is therefore not an environment that children should be allowed to work in.
In considering the welfare and well-being of Palestinian children, one must look at the direction of travel. It points in one positive direction but is clearly in need of improvement. Israel has gone to great lengths to materially improve the well-being of Palestinian children, while their condition remains poor in areas beyond Israel’s influence, particularly in Lebanon and Syria. Conditions for Palestinian children in the West Bank, while certainly not great, remain better than in many other Middle Eastern countries.
Finally, since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, an estimated 70% of Palestinians in Syria have been displaced, with 440,000 requiring humanitarian assistance. Two-thirds of UNRWA education facilities have now closed in Syria, and UNICEF has highlighted that Palestinian children are routinely exposed to violence and abuse and that many of them have only one meal every two days. More needs to be done worldwide for the health and well-being of children. I thank the noble Lord for initiating this debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for having introduced this debate in such forthright tones, and I will comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, has just said. Some of us make no apology for repeatedly raising the issues which are before the House. Those of us who regard ourselves as friends of both the people of Palestine and the people of Israel, and who have many personal friends in both communities, are particularly concerned because of our record of historical responsibility for the creation of the state of Israel and our long presence and participation in the affairs of the Middle East. However, there is another point too. Frankly, our expectations of Israel had been high. Due to the experiences of many of the people who live in Israel—not least the Holocaust, of course—and because of the values in Judaism, we had hoped for a state that would set examples to the world. For that reason we are so profoundly concerned. However, above all I make the point that this issue cannot receive enough attention from our Government. I agree with those who have expressed frustration at the fact that we get a lot of work and a lot of statements on the issue, but when will we get some results on it? It is absolutely clear to us that the future is in jeopardy because of what is happening to young people in both communities, who are growing up in a context of exaggerated vocabulary of hatred and enmity and in a situation of confrontation, when they should be in a context of deep commitment to reconciliation, understanding and building peace in the future. That is what we expect of Israel and of the leaders of Palestine.
Not very long ago, on 12 July, the Secretary-General spoke in the Security Council of the UN. I make no apology for quoting what he said:
“I will never forget my moving meeting with student leaders at an UNRWA school in Gaza on my final day in the region. One 15 year-old boy concluded by saying ‘harsh restrictions drain away the ambitions of any young person. And this is how we see our future—to be killed by the conflict, to be killed by the closure, or to be killed by despair.’ Surely, we can do better for all the children of Palestine and Israel. Surely, they deserve a horizon of hope”.
He also said:
“The children of Israel and Palestine deserve nothing less”.
He added that he was,
“deeply troubled by shrinking space for civil society in the region”,
and by the,
“flagrant disregard of international law”,
represented by Israel’s settlement enterprise. He said that,
“every brick added to the edifice of occupation is another taken from Israel’s foundation as a majority Jewish and democratic state”.
However, he went on—I cannot emphasise this too strongly to my Palestinian friends—
“At the same time, those Palestinians who celebrate and encourage attacks against innocents must know that they are not serving the interests of their people or peace. Such acts must be universally condemned and more must be done to counter the incitement that fuels and justifies terror”.
Those were powerful words of leadership from the Secretary-General.
What of the reality on the ground? Since last October, the number of Palestinian children from the West Bank in Israeli custody has increased threefold, reflecting the current escalation in violence. More than 400 Palestinian children are currently in Israeli custody, including 13 held without charge or trial in what is known as administrative detention. What also troubles me—I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, emphasised this—is that 489 are held inside Israel in direct contravention and direct defiance of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
I am also troubled by the fact that in the last attack on Gaza by Israeli forces—whatever justification may have been given—228 school buildings were damaged or destroyed. How is that building peace for the future? Surely it is totally counterproductive in terms of how it will affect attitudes among young people in the region in the future.
On 2 July, 42 new settlement units were approved by the Israeli Government. On 3 July, the Government also approved 560 units. In June, a further 82 settlement units were approved. There are now 573,000 settlers in occupied territory in 237 settlements. All that affects the psychology and general health and so on of the young and the children. When will our friends in Israel understand the foolishness of counterproductivity on this scale? No one underestimates the provocation with which they have to deal on many occasions, sometimes in the heart of their own communities, but that is what demands courage and leadership. If they show that, we will be second to none in supporting them in a completely new approach.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Warner, on securing this debate on what I am sure is one of the most important topics in the world today. It is important because, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, we expect Israel to do better. Israelis are our allies and our friends, and we expect more of them all the time. It is no good making comparisons with what happens in other countries; we expect a high standard from Israel.
Some of this debate will be repetitive but it is worth hearing over and over again. I shall start with a story from Defence for Children International, which is a very reputable NGO.
Recently an 11 year-old Palestinian boy was helping to gather in the family’s sheep from their grazing area near the Gaza border fence when Israeli soldiers approached on the other side and started firing at him. He was shot in the groin and started to bleed heavily. He was left for three hours—watched, but not assisted in any way, by the soldiers. He was eventually retrieved by his family and taken to hospital, where he had to have both his testicles removed and was in intensive care for several days, his life ruined. I was informed of another shooting by Israeli soldiers of boys playing football, some time ago, again near the fence. The boys received injuries to their feet and legs and will never play football again. They are good shots, the soldiers in the IDF: they aim very well.
I will now refer to the Child Rights Bulletin for the period 1 March to 2 May this year, collated from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. In that two-month period, eight children and a pregnant woman were killed, and 146 Palestinian children and three Israeli children were injured. There were 736 military incursions into the West Bank and 19 into Gaza, and 114 children were arrested in the middle of the night, blindfolded and taken away. We know about their treatment; we have heard about it from the delegation of British lawyers who reported on conditions for those children in 2012.
I have heard it said that these actions are caused by incitement by the Palestinians. The children throw stones and sticks, and some carry scissors or a knife, and the Government of Israel say that this is sufficient reason for the IDF to behave as it does. I question that. What wimps those soldiers must be if, in their helmets and bulletproof vests, armed to the teeth, they are afraid of children throwing stones or carrying scissors. We are also told that the children are encouraged to do these things by the Palestinian Authority, which British taxpayers pay to keep law and order in the territory that Israel occupies. That fact alone needs a separate debate. Why do we pay for this? Why is Israel not paying for its occupation?
The children of Palestine do not need to be told to react against what is happening to them. All around them they see cruel and humiliating treatment of their parents at the checkpoints. They experience poverty and a shortage of food. Settler violence occurs on a daily basis, damaging crops and fields, homes and water supplies. Added to this are house demolitions, families being made homeless, incursions into schools, and damage to playgrounds and open spaces—and I have not even mentioned Gaza yet. Many children now have terrible psychiatric problems, night terrors and post-traumatic stress disorder. Nobody does anything about Israel’s flagrant breaking of international law and the Geneva Convention, or its total lack of respect for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel signed, by the way, in 1991.
I assure noble Lords that the great danger for Israel is that by treating children in this way, she is creating a generation of terrorists who will have a justified grudge against Israel and the countries who support her—beware. This cannot be allowed to go on. Whatever the situation we are in with the USA and the EU, we have been mainly responsible since the Balfour Declaration in 1917. It clearly stated, when Israel was created, that,
“nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
This week, I met MPs from Jordan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bahrain and some other countries; all were supportive of the Palestinian cause and some wondered whether their Governments should sign trade agreements with us after Brexit if we fail to live up to our responsibilities towards the Palestinians. That is an interesting thought. The treatment of the Palestinians by Israel is a major cause of the rise of extreme Islamism and Daesh. That was also agreed by people from all over the world in that meeting last week.
Finally, I appeal to those eminent Jewish Peers in this House, who I respect in every way especially for the work that I know that they do with eminent and good Israeli colleagues in Israel. I respect them hugely, but their support for the Israeli Government, particularly over the past few years, is simply not deserved. They could follow Jews for Justice for Palestinians and lead a movement from the Jewish diaspora in this country to make the Government of Israel see sense before they destroy that country from within and take the Middle East and the wider world with her.
I, too, express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for securing this important debate. I speak as patron of the charities Embrace the Middle East and Friends of the Holy Land. I regularly lead pilgrimages to Israel and Palestine and for these past two years I have participated annually as a Church of England bishop in the Vatican Holy Land Coordination visiting Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
Part of the inescapable context for this debate, as has already been said, is that the state of Israel has a legitimate expectation of security and pressing reasons to express that. What many of those who would count themselves as her friends would argue is that such a focus to the exclusion of all else is counterproductive—a word already used in this debate.
The children of the West Bank, and in particular Gaza, suffer from a long-term failure to achieve a just settlement with the state of Israel and from more recent and specific conflicts, particularly the 51-day conflict focused on Gaza in the summer of 2014. We all lament the loss of 2,100 Palestinians killed, including 551 children, as we do 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians. The numbers speak for themselves.
Even before the 2014 conflict, the infrastructure and economy of Gaza was driving poor outcomes, exacerbated by the sealing off of the territory in 2007 by Egypt and Israel in response to the Hamas takeover. In 2009, the Lancet reported a two-year study indicating an increase in the stunting of growth of children since the mid-1990s as well as increased rates of tuberculosis. Infant mortality is rising, not least in Gaza, from 12 per 1,000 within a month of being born in 2008 to 20 per 1,000 in 2013—an increase of 70%. The bombardment in 2014 left 10,000 homes uninhabitable, more than 500 schools damaged and many health facilities likewise. Some 8,000 and more of these homes remain in ruins. Much-needed building materials are inhibited by the effective closure of Gaza.
The coastal aquifer water supply for Gaza is now in such a state that 95% of it is unsuitable for drinking, which has massive and obvious implications for public health. There is an urgent need to accelerate construction, economic activity and medical provision, not least for the 3,500 children who were injured during those 51 days in 2014. I wish to pay tribute to the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, which last year provided psychosocial support to some 2,400 children, yet in 2014, UNICEF calculated that those requiring such support numbered, as we have heard, around 373,000—about half the child population. It is no surprise that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East reported last year that pupils in its schools were suffering from intra-student violence, trauma and despair.
I have a number of requests to make of Her Majesty’s Government—first, that they recognise at last the state of Palestine. There was a very convincing vote to this end in the other place last year; the Vatican has done so, and it seems a strange use of the prerogative to persist in gainsaying Parliament on the matter. Secondly, will they make representations to the Government of Israel on the use of ammunition when dealing with situations involving children and their being tried by military courts? Thirdly, will Her Majesty’s Government press partners to open the borders in Gaza through the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, notwithstanding the need for scrutiny and effective border controls which enable security needs to be addressed? Fourthly, the Department for International Development should seek to enhance medical facilities in Gaza and the West Bank, particularly for neonatal and psychosocial health; there is a pressing need for this, as we have heard.
Finally, we should commend to all parties and model ourselves the way of peace; of building bridges, not walls; of encouraging the peoples of Israel and Palestine to build up and not tear down; of providing a love strong enough to break down accumulated resentments, and providing practical support for those who even in desperate straits would not forget the law of hospitality were they to greet us. Above all, let us not forget the children, for Jesus never did.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for introducing the debate because this is a very important subject. I was able to go on a trip to Israel in February which was organised by my noble friend Lord Polak and paid for by the Israeli Government. It was the first time that I had been to Israel since 1967; that is quite a long time ago and it has changed dramatically in the meantime. During our visit we went to the West Bank. I was surprised to find that virtually all Palestinians are Sunni Muslims—there are almost no Christian Palestinians left now. At the same time, I was rather surprised to see that it is possible to buy whisky, wine and beer, so Palestinian Sunnis do not really abide by extreme Sunni Muslimism.
The radicalisation of Sunnis comes via the schools of the West Bank, where the rhetoric is a nasty form of anti-Semitism, the sort of thing that we associate with Nazi Germany. They accuse Jews of being unworthy of playing any role in the world and liken them to vermin, as the Nazis used to do in Germany. The result of this radicalisation is that a number of young Palestinians have found their way into Israel proper and have murdered Israelis on the streets. When we were there, we found out that 18 Israelis had been killed in the preceding few months. The number of atrocities has dropped, but there was an incident in which an Israeli was murdered just the other day. That is pretty awful.
What is even more awful is the discovery that the education authority for the West Bank is financed by the European Union. In answer to a Question I tabled, my noble friend Lady Verma stated that the EU gives €290 million in aid to the West Bank authorities and that 14.5% of it comes from the United Kingdom. My noble friend made the point in her reply that EU funding to the Palestinian Authority is through something called the PEGASE mechanism, which provides salaries for vetted civil servants only. When my noble friend the Minister winds up the debate, can she tell us what that vetting means? Does it mean that people working for the Palestinian Authority have no responsibility for the videos being put out of young people saying that they are determined to kill Jews?
As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said, there are Jewish Peers in this House. I am a Christian but I have a certain amount of Jewish blood. I hope that gives me a certain degree of objectivity in discussing these issues. I have enormous sympathy with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I think the settlements that have been established on the West Bank and continue to be established to this day are very counterproductive for Israel. When we had a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I was interested when he put up his finger and said, “I was the first Israeli Prime Minister to stop the settlements on the West Bank”. He then said that he had had no response from the Palestinians so he got them to continue again. I think that was very regrettable.
We will solve the Palestinian issue only when we recognise the legitimate claim of Palestinians to their own self-determination. On the other hand, what has never been mentioned by those who bemoan the terrible fate suffered by many Palestinians is Gaza. Israel actually gave Gaza back to the Palestinians. Was it too much to expect at that stage that the Palestinians in Gaza might decide to live at peace with Israel? They had been given their territory and all they had to do from there was get on and live their own existences. They did not. They lobbed mortars over the borders and killed Israelis in Israel proper.
Not unnaturally, there is an obsession in Israel today with the security of its own citizens. It has put up a wall—a barrier between the West Bank and Israel proper. If you have a two-state solution, what guarantees would there be that an independent Palestine on the eastern side of the border would not lob mortars over the barrier into Israel proper? I have to say that logistically it would be rather easier to do it from the West Bank than it is from Gaza. One has to accept that because of the problem of Hamas deciding to declare war on Israel, despite being given back the territory of Gaza in which to live, there is a certain reluctance in Israel to go ahead with a two-state solution that may create an enormous security problem for its own citizens.
If Israel does not have a two-state solution, what will it do? Will there be a one-state solution? Will it go on building settlements on the West Bank and eventually reach the situation when Israelis and Jews in Israel will be outnumbered by Palestinians? There are no simple answers to this question but I do not believe that the status quo is sustainable. We have to address the issue of self-determination for Palestinians if we are ever to solve the problems that continue to run in that area, and which are of great concern to all of us.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for introducing this debate. He has set out the background to the situation of children in Palestine forcefully. It is as well to remember that whatever faith or belief we have—I am a humanist—many children in many countries are living with the results of armed conflict. This debate is not about men or women with guns, tanks and bombs but about the consequences of ideologies and conflict on those who suffer most—our children.
There are many non-governmental organisations that work in Gaza. I shall start my contribution with a stark statement from Christian Aid, whose concerns are echoed by others:
“When children in Gaza reach the age of 15 they refer to it as the beginning of a 40 year prison sentence, as getting a permit to leave Gaza will be almost impossible. Millions of Palestinian children in Gaza are being condemned to a future without hope and to live in an environment that the United Nations has predicted will be uninhabitable in less than four years”.
We are talking about children whose lives are being ruined and who are growing up neglected and subdued. It would not be surprising if some of them turned to anger and radical means of expressing themselves. My concerns are about the impact on children of conflicting ideologies and political frameworks. No child, in whatever country they are living, should be subjected to cruelty, loss of dignity and even loss of life.
Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, accepted by Governments worldwide, all children have the right to non-discrimination, the right to life, survival and development and the right to be heard. The best interests and the rights of the child should be paramount. Children in Palestine are being denied the right to the principles of the UNCRC.
Two years since the outbreak of the 2014 conflict, much of Gaza remains in ruins. Children are living in poverty—endemic and permanent poverty—due to the blockade. Families cannot afford nutritious food, causing severe health problems in children, such as stunted growth. They cannot access medical care and schooling. There is a shortage of hospitals and medical supplies and of schools. Many are homeless. Fewer than 10% of the 11,000 homes that were destroyed during the 51-day bombardment have been rebuilt. The atmosphere is polluted, affecting children’s physical and mental health. Children are showing high levels of physical and emotional distress. Parents report that their children are fearful of another war, and 20% of water and sewage works have not been fully restored.
Until recently, I was a board member of UNICEF UK, whose principles are based on the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. UNICEF is part of the UN country team in Palestine and leads the Child Protection Working Group and affiliated groups on mental health and psychosocial services. It co-leads the Nutrition Working Group and co-ordinates emergency responses. In mid-2015 UNICEF produced two bulletins on children and armed conflict covering serious violations against Palestinian and Israeli children.
Water, sanitation and hygiene, education, child health and nutrition are part of UNICEF’s humanitarian strategy, working in conjunction with international and local agencies. These include joint action on child protection—for example, for pupils and teachers to get to school—psychological support and counselling, and awareness of child rights. In education, programmes have been developed to teach maths and languages, including for children with special needs. The production of safe drinking water clearly has to be a priority, for example, through desalination.
The efforts include provision of medical equipment, health supplements, therapeutic feeding for under- nourished children, and neonatal care and support for women through trained midwives. But humanitarian aid cannot resolve fundamental problems. Charities working on the ground with which I have been in touch are clear about this and have recommended action. They condemn violence against civilians by all sides. They support a permanent ceasefire as the main response to lasting security for both Israelis and Palestinians. They are clear that all parties to the conflict should promote provision of aid and not restrict that aid getting to those who need it. They believe that the international community should propose a time-bound plan to facilitate an end to the blockade, which can be implemented and monitored through the UN. They recommend that pledges made at the Cairo conference on reconstruction and recovery projects should be prioritised. Would the Minister agree with those recommendations? What proposals do the Government have to try to solve this problem, which is affecting children on a wide scale?
In this brief debate, we can only touch on aspects of the conditions under which children are living in Palestine, and on the impact of those living conditions. Unless we—the world’s children are the responsibility of all of us—improve those children’s health, well-being and education, there will be a lost generation and a tragedy on a massive scale.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for initiating this important debate. I was once fortunate enough to have him as my boss when he was chairman of the Youth Justice Board. I can record that he is one of the best and most inspirational bosses one could hope to have. It is a great pleasure to speak in a debate initiated by him.
By contrast, there is sadly very little to inspire one in the state of affairs that pertains in the Occupied Palestinian Territories today, most particularly in the position in which Palestinian children now find themselves. My criticisms of the occupation and its inevitable and devastating impacts on Palestinian children arise not out of any hostility to Israel, but, quite the contrary, from a profound respect for the achievements of Israel and its people, and the consequent horror that its values are being so corrupted by the near 50-year occupation and consequent oppression of millions of people.
In 2014, I had the opportunity to visit Israel with my noble friend Lord Palmer on a delegation of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. We visited both Israel and the West Bank. In my visit to the West Bank I met some young leaders in the Negotiations Affairs Department of the PLO. They, like almost everybody in Israel and the Occupied Territories, of course had their own map. I discovered that everybody has their own map and they are all different. Few people agree on anything. But they made a point to me about the restrictions that the settlements placed on everyone. They made the comparison with situations in apartheid South Africa.
I know the Israeli Government and the people of Israel quite understandably feel outraged when comparisons are made between Israel and apartheid South Africa. None of us who have witnessed the reality of the poisonous ideology and its vile application by the apartheid regime would ever make that comparison with the democratic state of Israel. Indeed, I note Israel is the only state in the region in which I, as a gay man, could live freely and under the protection of law. I have a great respect for the values of Israel.
Nevertheless, while there is no comparison between the Government of Israel and that of apartheid South Africa, it is unavoidable and undeniable that many conditions that pertain in the Occupied Territories are similar to those that those of us who spent time in South Africa saw under the apartheid regime: the occupation and settlement of land; the checkpoints; the bulldozing of homes; the military incursions; the detentions of minors; the disregard for legal rights; the night raids; the closed roads; the separate laws; the ongoing humiliations; the deepening anger; the loss of hope; the spread of violence; the settler retaliations; the authorities’ passive and sometimes active acquiescence in the excesses of their own settlers, with whom they inevitably side; and the steady dehumanisation of one side by the other. None of this should be surprising. Whenever one people seeks to rule another through occupation and settlement, it is inevitable that similar methods will be used and similar reactions engendered.
In all this, children are always in the crossfire: oppressed and exploited by the vile Hamas regime in Gaza and suffering under the suffocating Israeli economic blockade and periodic and overwhelming military assaults in response to Hamas attacks. Or else they are radicalised in the West Bank from years of witnessing their parents humiliated and defeated, and their own aspirations curtailed and destroyed. Hundreds of children are killed, thousands maimed and hundreds of thousands traumatised.
Given the occupation, it is inevitable that young people come into conflict with the occupying forces. I will focus in particular on the role of the Israeli military in the detention of children in the West Bank. The Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, recorded that in April 2016 414 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prisons as security detainees and prisoners, including 13 administrative detainees—that is, those held without trial. Three were aged under 14, 109 were aged under 16 and a further 302 were under the age of 18.
As noble Lords will be aware and as has been referenced, in June 2012 the FCO funded a report into children in military custody, which found that Israel’s military detention system violated six articles under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and two articles under the Fourth Geneva Convention. In February 2013, as has also been alluded to, a UNICEF report described the ill treatment of children in the military detention system as “widespread, systematic and institutionalized”. B’Tselem itself has reluctantly concluded that there is no point continuing to file complaints against the military detention system as it has no desire to give credence to a justice system in which there is no justice. A review of developments since the 2012 FCO report indicated that just one of the report’s 40 recommendations had been addressed four years later.
As is often the case when speaking at this stage of the debate, so many of the facts and figures have already been stated by noble Lords. So many arguments have already been made. I will not trespass on the patience of the House by repeating them, but I want to underline that behind all these figures is the reality of lives ruined and cut short, of families devastated, whether Israeli or Palestinian. That is the reality behind the figures.
All of us who passionately believe in Israel need to recognise that true friendship does not lie in defending the indefensible. It exists in having the courage to acknowledge and confront the truth. Organisations such as B’Tselem understand this. Their painstaking work does not, as some detractors suggest, give succour to Israel’s enemies. On the contrary, it bears witness to the enduring values for which Israel was created. After the 1967 war, the founding Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, presciently warned that the continued occupation and settlement of the Palestinian Territories would corrupt the valiant soul of Israel. Nowhere is that more evident than in the willingness of the Israeli authorities to countenance the terrible suffering of Palestinian children as an acceptable price of occupation and settlement.
My Lords, the plight of children across the region will improve permanently and safely only with reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis. Reconciliation is always challenging as it requires people on all sides and at all levels, including those of us attempting to help from outside the region, to understand and accept with compassion the narrative and life circumstances of “the other”. I will update the House regarding the commitment and steady progress in this direction currently being witnessed in the Middle East.
The debate is timely as, in support of this commitment to reconciliation, which is now beginning to traverse diplomatic circles in the region, a small group of us parliamentarians from the United Kingdom will travel next week to Egypt to discuss with its leadership how we might support President al-Sisi and help further: its own internal road map for its own recovery and development; its involvement in trying to accomplish a Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation; and its strategy to uphold its pledged commitment to regional peace. Following this, I propose to go on to Ramallah and Jerusalem to continue to progress various cross-border initiatives. As noble Lords will be aware, Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, travelled last month to Ramallah and last week he met with the Israeli Prime Minister in Jerusalem, with the aim of reviving peace talks and halt any further deterioration in the situation surrounding negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
The responsibility of the international community to ensure that there is regional co-operation remains paramount. The children across the area and all the citizens there are suffering through our collective inability to deal with these wars. As we have heard, the Palestinian children, the children of Sderot in southern Israel—the nearest target of some 13,000 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the past 10 years—and the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in their thousands on our own shores in Kent from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, all share a common experience of living their daily lives with conflict. We must be more urgent in our attempt to rectify the situation to ensure that no further generations are exposed to such arduous and painful circumstances.
I will mention three initiatives of which Her Majesty’s Government should be aware. First, I have spoken before of the Two States One Homeland movement, which seeks as its objective the creation of a confederation of two sovereign states: a state of Israel, a state of Palestine and a confederation across the two, which would lessen the risk that the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, wisely talked about earlier. Secondly, alongside this there is a regional plan for peace led by Koby Huberman. A team of Israelis has responded to the Arab Peace Initiative with an Israeli Peace Initiative, and together they have developed a regional diplomatic proposal to resume negotiations. Thirdly, an Israeli Minister for Regional Co-operation, Ayoob Kara, has commenced work on the creation of three neutral zones along the Palestinian-Israeli border, where citizens of both countries can come together to work.
These areas will encourage development, innovation and growth of industry for both Palestinian and Israeli entrepreneurs who will work there side by side. I am very grateful to noble, noble and learned, and noble and gallant Lords who have articulated their support for such initiatives and have lent their time, expertise and assistance regarding them. Indeed, some of them are part of the group that will be travelling to Egypt next week. In the light of this invitation for us to travel to Egypt to discuss both its internal plans and regional peace, and particularly to identify where the United Kingdom may best assist in resurrecting direct negotiations between Palestine and Israel, would Her Majesty’s Government consider convening a meeting of leaders and experts from all sides with whom we are working to assist in the development of these initiatives?
Next year—2017—is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the 50th anniversary of the six-day war of 1967. Can we all come together and make 2017 a year when we begin, collectively, to heal the rifts of the past for the benefit of all our futures, and in particular the future of the children? Thank you.
My Lords, in my 20 years in this House we have had many debates on Palestine and Israel and the same things come up again and again. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Oates, on his outstanding contribution, which excels the others I have heard over that period.
There has been murder and mayhem on both sides of this conflict and although Israel’s actions against Hamas have always seemed to be disproportionate, I do not propose to list the outrages which have occurred, which are well documented and many of which have been mentioned. On the one hand, I have huge respect for what Israelis do for themselves, and could do for Palestinians if they accepted the two-state solution. On the other, I admire the sheer endurance of the Palestinian people, especially the children, who always seem to come up against greater odds.
It is tempting to list the outrages, the blockades and the bombings, but these are not the subject of this debate. However, the conditions in which children live is. We have already heard from noble Lords on the question of the reconstruction in Gaza and how much has been destroyed there. The figure which struck me was that out of 547 educational facilities damaged or destroyed, only 380 have been repaired or rebuilt so far. What an irony to think that schools may have been the targets of Israel’s defence force, when we remember what the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, said about propaganda in those schools. It is worth considering that.
It is some years since I visited Gaza and the West Bank as a guest of the Middle East Council of Churches, but I have especially strong memories of the frustrations of the young unemployed and the valuable skills training and other services that UNRWA and the Churches were, and still are, providing. I also remember the humiliation of the crossing points and the harm they do to both the people and the economy. I doubt that we shall see much change under the present Israeli leadership. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, mentioned President Netanyahu’s concern about settlements. I hope that the Minister will reaffirm the Government’s determination to bring up this question of settlements again and again. I remember standing outside Ma’ale Adumim and realising that this was going to form a circle around east Jerusalem, and how terrifying that was for the Palestinians.
An UNRWA needs assessment conducted last November at UNRWA’s 96 schools in the West Bank found unprecedented levels of intra-student violence, trauma and anxiety among children, with the staff reporting more than 200 cases of children injuring each other with sharp objects. Violence and aggressive behaviour in general among pupils was, and remains, at an all-time high. The report also said that post-traumatic stress disorder had been diagnosed at a rate not witnessed since the second intifada and that teachers observed a lack of concentration and poor performance among pupils. Save the Children conducted similar assessments of the mental health of school-age children between the ages of six and 15 in Gaza in April and May 2015. It interviewed 413 children and 352 mothers,
“living in the hardest-hit areas (those that had been heavily bombarded and had a high number of civilian casualties) … Unexpectedly high levels of continued severe emotional distress and trauma were reported”.
It is well known that children bear the scars of war and conflict but we do not often hear from those closest to the children. One observer known to Christian Aid is the director of the Culture and Free Thought Association based in Khan Younis in Gaza, who made this observation recently:
“When we ask our children to draw Spring, Hope and Happiness, the faces they draw are not Palestinian, unlike when they draw other themes. Our children who are now 12 have lived through three wars already. In the past, when we [gave] psycho-social support to children, we would observe positive impacts in a relatively short period of time. Now we work closely with them for six months or a year and sometimes longer, and we see little or no impact”.
This is someone who evidently knows these children well and he, and others like him, are having to work harder and harder not just to achieve results but to make any progress at all. At least some of these children will grow up to be hardened to their situation and may be easily radicalised, should their lives lead in that direction.
On a more positive note, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has already mentioned an organisation which has helped young Palestinians for over a century, this time in Jerusalem, the Spafford Children’s Centre, which has long experience of coping with trauma and provides psychological, social and educational support to hundreds of children. Israel and Palestine are working together on this.
Finally, I must say a word about the current tour by the Palestine Youth Orchestra, although I know that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has given the details. This is the most exciting tour, its first in the UK, involving 85 young musicians aged 14 to 26. I am proud to say that my wife has been involved in this tour. The orchestra was originally established by the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in 2004. It is performing both European and contemporary Arab music and brings a message of inspiration and humanity to audiences worldwide, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said. We all know what inspiration comes out of music and I shall definitely be in the Royal Festival Hall on 1 August, along, I hope, with many others.
My Lords, I refer the House to my registered interests and my honorary position as the president of the CFI. I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Warner, on securing this debate and offer my noble friend the Minister congratulations and welcome her to the Dispatch Box—it may get easier.
I began my working career as a youth worker; I have my own children and a new precious granddaughter; I have helped to build schools; and I believe passionately that every child, wherever they may be in the world, deserves the best that they can get. It was in that spirit that I was more than happy to try to help my noble friend Lord Cope on the matter of the Palestine Youth Orchestra, which I totally supported.
As I will explain a little later, we here can do much to alleviate suffering, and I am confident that the excellent new Secretary of State for DfID, Priti Patel, will seize the opportunity to target our aid carefully to help those children who suffer. However, let me be very clear: we must not continue to profess Israel’s sole responsibility for the health and well-being of Palestinian children. By doing so, we continue to prolong the conflict by condemning the Palestinians themselves to perpetual helplessness. The suffering of Palestinian children is a tragic consequence of the extremist ideology that has been allowed to flourish in the Palestinian territories; we must recognise this in order to better the conditions in which they live.
The terror group Hamas, which calls in its founding charter for the destruction of the Jewish state, must take prime responsibility for the ongoing suffering of Gazan children. As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said, under the rule of Hamas at least 160 Palestinians have been killed while digging Hamas terror tunnels into Israel—including nine children, according to the Journal of Palestine Studies. Those Peers in this House who follow social media may see the latest Hamas video of excited children being taken on tunnel tours; I saw it this morning. I ask noble Lords: no incitement? Everyone is clear that the sole purpose of Hamas’s tunnels into Israel is to kill Israeli civilians. Do they really hate Israelis more than they care about the well-being of their own children?
Instead of building houses, schools and hospitals, Hamas has built a sophisticated infrastructure of terror. We should remember that, in the 2014 war, Hamas put Palestinian children in danger. In many cases, the rockets launched by Hamas fell short of their intended target—Israeli kindergartens—and instead landed in Gaza, killing Palestinian children. From firing rockets near hospitals to storing rocket in schools, Palestinian children were used as human shields throughout the conflict, defined as targets by the very people who should have protected them. I wish that there were no rockets; I wish that there were no tunnels, and as a result I know that there would be no retaliation.
In the West Bank, it is the Palestinian Authority that must stop polluting the minds of youngsters through its campaign of radicalisation. Any leadership that encourages children to take a knife and to kill another child purely because of their religion or race would be deemed despicable. Why is it viewed differently in the Palestinian territories, where the glorification of terror continues unabated? To dismiss this incitement as irrelevant is quite shameful.
Worrying reports have emerged about some of the NGOs that we in the UK support in the Palestinian territories. A number promote violence on their social media pages despite carrying out laudable activities in development and healthcare. One example is the Ibdaa Cultural Center, which receives £5,602 from the UK Government. It repeatedly glorifies on its Facebook page Palestinian terrorists who have killed Israelis, and it hosts events in their honour, inviting their families as special guests. A killer in the recent wave of violence, Muhannad Halabi, a terrorist who stabbed two Israelis to death and wounded two more, including a two year-old boy, was recently described as a martyr and his family were invited as honoured guests to an event hosted by the UK-funded NGO. This is the kind of rhetoric that Palestinian children are being subjected to—a community organisation that provides social, educational and health programmes for Palestinian children is consistently spreading the message that if you kill an Israeli you will be rewarded and martyred.
This brainwashing of Palestinian children to hatred and violence is a form of child abuse. The Palestinians must be condemned for denying their own children a better future. Surely UK aid to such NGOs, which in the vast majority of cases undoubtedly carry out good and important work, must be made conditional on the renouncement of all violence and incitement. In addition, DfID should monitor far more closely the social media presence and activism of NGOs funded by our taxpayers’ money and immediately address any concerning material that is found, so that we can safely reassure the public here that Britain is being a help to the Middle East peace process, not a hindrance.
The only way that future generations of Palestinian children will enjoy good health and well-being is for Palestinians and Israelis to recognise each other’s right to live within safe and secure borders. Yet less than 13% of DfID’s £1.17 million funding of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs goes towards projects that promote and foster peaceful co-existence. This amount is a mere 0.2% of the £72 million that we give in total, including our general budgetary support for the PA, despite its continued misuse. Our aid strategy has been flawed by its lack of support for projects bringing Israelis and Palestinians together.
Why not help to bring Palestinians and Israelis together while also saving lives? I refer to the charity that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, talked of, Save a Child’s Heart. I have seen numerous times how this Israeli NGO brings Palestinian children from Gaza every Tuesday morning, and other desperately ill children from Africa, to have life-saving surgery in Holon, just outside Tel Aviv. As I say, I have seen first-hand, for more than 15 years, the co-operative efforts that have existed between the Save a Child’s Heart medical staff in Israel and the parents of sick children in Gaza.
Let us also support other projects, such as the Equaliser project—there are so many. I hope that the Minister will look in the future to supporting co-existence projects that will bring long-term stability to the region and increase the quality of life of the children involved.
Can the Minister update the House on the progress of DfID’s search for projects bringing together Palestinians and Israelis? Does she agree with me that the institutionalised radicalisation in the Palestinian territories sustains the conflict, and thus the suffering of Palestinian children? This suffering is, as I stated earlier, a tragic consequence of extremist ideology that has been allowed to flourish. We must recognise this and we must defeat it—if we do, the lives of so many children in the area will be improved enormously.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for introducing this debate because it gives me the opportunity to offer a somewhat different slant on the causes of the situation in the West Bank and Gaza. It is not possible to understand the plight of Palestinian children without examining why they get into that position. There can be little doubt that many in the West Bank feel frustrated and downtrodden by the lack of progress in resolving their conflict with the Israelis and improving their living conditions, but the reasons for their parlous position lie at least as much with their own leaders as with the Israelis. Those poor Palestinians in Gaza are in hock to a Hamas that flatly refuses to have anything to do with an Israel that it constantly vows to destroy.
I come first to the treatment of the young in custody, whom the noble Lord, Lord Warner, mentioned. It is hard not to believe that the reason that they find themselves in custody lies with the constant incitement coming from above. When Mr Abbas and the PLO spread malicious rumours that Israel is intent on taking over the Dome of the Rock and building a synagogue there, and when Mr Abbas put out the message, as he did recently, that Israel is poisoning the water supply to the West Bank, it is no surprise that his people are outraged, even though these rumours are soon found to be complete fabrications—just too late to stop the smoke without fire. When terrorists are extolled as true martyrs to the cause by the naming of Palestinian schools and public squares in their honour, and their families are given funding and compensation thereafter, what message does that give to the young?
The official Palestinian media and education system continually inculcate young minds with hatred and violence, so it is not much wonder that many of the recent attacks against Israelis were committed by youngsters. How else can you explain why 17 year-old Mohammed Tarayreh should take it upon himself to murder 13 year-old Hallel Ariel, asleep in her bed, after which his family was rewarded with funding by the PLO; or why a 16 year-old should stab to death Eden Atias, asleep on a bus; or why five members of the Fogel family, including a four year-old and an 11 year-old, were killed by 17 year-old Hakim Awad? These are not the harmless children that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, describes. Little wonder that Israel arrested some 600 underage teenagers last year, although that number has to be compared with 1,500 underage arrests by the Palestinians in the West Bank.
Of course, there is no excuse for maltreatment by the Israeli military courts, and the Israeli human rights organisation Military Court Watch keeps its beady eye on them. But it is worth noting that the courts have recently instituted reforms that ensure that captives are interviewed in Arabic, that they have access to a lawyer and that their families are fully informed. That contrasts with the treatment of youngsters arrested by the Palestinians, where accusations of abuse and beatings are not uncommon.
Much has been made of the water supply and sewage disposal. But why then did Hamas prevent UNICEF installing a desalination plant in Gaza when it realised that the equipment and expertise were coming from Israel? Why has the Palestinian Authority boycotted the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee, set up to find solutions for the water supply to the West Bank? Why did it turn down an Israeli offer of a German-funded plan to improve the water supply to East Jerusalem? We should think carefully before casting all the blame Israel’s way.
Of course, indoctrination with hatred does not affect everyone. Thousands of Palestinians go across to work in Israel every day, and there would be many more if Israelis felt safer. Go to any Israeli hospital, as the noble Lord, Lord Polak, said, and you will see large numbers of children from Gaza and the West Bank being treated. Of the 2,000 or so Gazans coming through the Erez crossing every day, many are coming across for medical care. When they are refused, it is usually Hamas, I am afraid, that stops them.
The health of Palestinians, including children, is in fact somewhat better than in many other Middle Eastern countries. Life expectancy, infant mortality rates and measures of nutritional status are at least as good among the Palestinians as they are in Jordan, Egypt or Saudi Arabia, and almost 50% of Palestinian children enter tertiary education. While there are all sorts of restrictions on life for the Palestinians, and the problems with the health of their children cannot be underestimated, it is not the major problem.
The major problem is the underlying sense amongst Palestinians that Israel’s settlement policy is denying them a state of their own, leaving aside the question of the right of return of refugees. On the other side, the feeling among Israelis is that the Palestinians have never really accepted their existence and want to drive them into the sea. The intense hatred bred from ignorance and misconceptions of the other is not helped when most Palestinians have only ever seen an Israeli as a soldier in full battle gear and few Israelis know any Palestinians other than terrorists. They just do not know anyone on the other side who might be as anxious as they are for peace. I very much echo what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said about this.
We in the UK need to look at where we can make the most difference. We should be persuading Mr Abbas that, if he is really serious about improving the lot of his young, he should put a stop to the PLO’s incessant incitement to violence, which his media and educational system are churning out. Instead, we should be encouraging and supporting the many organisations that are promoting better understanding. There are lots of them. The Cameri Theatre is bringing Arab and Jewish actors together to play Shakespeare in this 400th anniversary year. There are Arab-Jewish schools, such as the Arava Institute in the Negev, where half the students are Palestinian and half are Israeli. I should talk about a little charity that my wife and I set up, which brings young Israelis and Palestinians to the UK to undertake medical research here. That is going quite well. These are the sorts of bridges that we should be building. They are going to be needed if we are ever to get out of the turmoil.
Will the Minister send a strong message to Mr Abbas to encourage him to take advantage of the offer by President Sisi of Egypt to host a resumption of negotiations with Mr Netanyahu? Abbas may feel that he cannot put much trust in Mr Netanyahu, and I for one can well understand that. But whatever you think of him, he has been saying for some time that he is willing to meet Abbas at any time, anywhere, without pre-conditions. You may not have wanted to believe him, but now Abbas could at least try to call his bluff since President Sisi has agreed to host both of them. Only by direct negotiation will they be able to resolve all the key issues that have eluded both parties for far too long. Only by talking to each other is there any hope of a resolution and doing anything for the children in the Middle East. We in the UK must do all we can to encourage that end.
My Lords, a debate on this topic was held in the other place on 6 January and the issues, particularly of arrest, were extensively covered. What is there to add? One of the underlying themes of the Middle East for decades, if not centuries, espoused not only by Palestinians but by the majority of states in the region, is the eradication of any non-Muslim presence in the Middle East—in this case, the obliteration of Israel and its replacement by an exclusively Muslim state. This House and the other place have all too often been recruited to the cause, as the dozens of debates such as this exemplify. But 6 million Jews living there lawfully under international law will not again be led to the slaughter and deprivation of all that they have built up, while the world stands by. Hence the measures that Israel has to take, but they are all against a background of careful attention to legal and humanitarian requirements.
Palestinian children are used as pawns in this struggle. They suffer from indoctrination with hate; they are used as human shields and suicide bombers; funds destined for them are diverted to the building of tunnels, where they are killed in the course of construction; and they are discriminated against in the countries where they are born, such as Lebanon. Palestinian children are found not only in the territories adjacent to Israel but elsewhere in the Middle East because of the expansive and unique definition of “refugees”. Thousands of Palestinian children have fled Syria to Lebanon and Jordan and are living in camps, in desperate need. Some are joining ISIS. Hundreds have been killed in Syria. The death, starvation and torture of Palestinian children in Syria or on the border with Egypt, which blockades Gaza, do not make headlines.
Lebanon treats Palestinian children particularly badly. They are barred from public schools, social security and public health provision, even though they have been born and raised there. They are restricted from 30 professions and can seek only menial jobs. Half the teens do not finish school. The illiteracy rate is 25%, whereas in Gaza literacy is near-universal. The Security Council reports that 15 to 17 year-old Palestinian children have been recruited by Palestinian armed factions in Lebanon and sent to Syria. Jordan is sending Palestinians back to Syria and restricting their access to facilities. In 2006 the UNHCR estimated that there were 34,000 Palestinians living in Iraq; now only 11,000 remain. They have been stripped of residency permits, are discriminated against and are subject to sectarian violence and arbitrary arrest.
Most Arab countries have not ratified the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and do not have domestic law to govern the situation. Article 34 of that convention says that,
“States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees”.
Today there is an outcry about the insecurity of European nationals in our country, not to mention the refugees reaching Europe. The church has called for us to extend hospitality, housing, health and education. Why do we not expect those same standards of the Arab nations in which millions of Palestinian children have been born and raised? No wonder Syrian refugees do not go to other Arab nations, when they see how the Palestinians have been treated. In order not to be unfairly selective given the child abuse across the region, will our Government call for Palestinian children to be given full rights in all the countries in which they reside?
If you condemn the slaughter in Nice, you should also condemn the ideology that is fostered to that end in Palestine. This is where we come to the nub of the matter. Why are Palestinian children being robbed of their childhood and arrested? It is because they are being educated and incited to hate by TV, radio, the internet, school books, sermons and summer camps glorifying martyrdom and death. Children act out shooting, stabbing and kidnapping. The educational system in Gaza teaches hatred and violence from a young age; you can see it in videos on the internet. Twenty-five thousand Palestinian children go to summer camps to learn to be suicide bombers and terrorists, and to be taught that making peace with so-called infidels is forbidden. Kindergarten children are told that killing is noble and that they are heroes if they die in the act.
The result is that 30% of the attackers in the current wave of terrorism on the streets of Israel are Palestinian minors. The technique of driving a vehicle into crowds of civilians or taking an axe to them is practised by Palestinians. There is no education for peace, or for a two-state solution, but only that Israel is to be removed and history distorted. Israel and Palestine are legally bound to abstain from incitement under the Oslo agreement and the 2003 road map, but the Palestinian Authority has failed to deliver on its commitment. Will Her Majesty’s Government use their leverage and the millions of dollars that they send in aid to Palestine to insist that this child abuse stops? The children suffer at the hands of their own people. They are killed while building tunnels for attack. They are used and abused, while Palestinian human rights organisations turn a blind eye to cruelty unless they can blame it on Israel.
The right reverend Prelate will know that to some extent the situation in Israel and Palestine is affected by two millennia of the persecution of Jews. It is not for the victims of persecution to learn the lessons, as is often said; it is for their perpetrators. There is only one country in the Middle East where Christian holy places are safeguarded and the Christian population is growing: that is Israel. The Church’s conscience and care for its co-religionists should lead it to call for the safety and survival of the nation of Israel. The Church should ask the Palestinians: where is their peacemaker? Where is their moral leader? A relentless onslaught on Israel, with boycotts and the obsession displayed by some with condemning it, rather than righting the underlying causes of the Palestinian condition, will only exacerbate the situation. It is time to be constructive and the Church should be giving a lead.
My Lords, I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and therefore losing my place but I am grateful for being allowed to speak in the gap.
I want to focus on the criminal justice system as it affects Palestinian children in the Occupied Territories. I acknowledge that there have been a few improvements as a result of pressures by UNICEF and others on Israeli authorities including its military prosecutors, police, prison service and Ministry of Justice. However, there are still many serious breaches of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, as set out by the exceptionally thorough and measured report by a group of eminent British lawyers, there is a continuing gulf between law and practice. There are still great differences between the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian children. The lawyers were forthright in their conclusion that Israel should not discriminate between those children over whom it has jurisdiction. They also concluded that Israel is in breach of a number of international human rights conventions because of these legal differentials. It is, they say, in breach of UNCRC articles on discrimination, the child’s best interests, premature resort to detention, non-separation from adults, prompt access to lawyers and the use of shackles. It is also violating the fourth Geneva Convention in the transportation of child prisoners into Israel. This is a devastating indictment of the system.
In their report, the lawyers set out a large number of recommendations on arrest, interrogation, plea-bargaining, trial, sentencing, detention, complaints and monitoring. In discussing their recommendations with the Ministry of Justice, they were told that the changes proposed were conditional on there being no significant unrest or a third intifada. The lawyers said that they were concerned about this conditionality and rightly concluded:
“A major cause of future unrest may well be the resentment of continuing injustice … justice is not a negotiable commodity but a fundamental human right which can itself do much to defuse anger”.
They went on to suggest that the position taken by a military prosecutor who told them that every Palestinian child is a potential terrorist is the starting point of a spiral of injustice. As they said only the occupying power, Israel, can reverse this.
What are the UK Government doing, having regard to their international obligations to enforce human rights, to put pressure on the Israeli Government? Can the Minister say whether there have been further developments in lobbying the Ministry of Justice by officials in our Tel Aviv embassy about a follow-up visit by the British lawyers’ delegation? I congratulate the Government on their decision to fund such a visit but I am shocked that the Israeli Government have so far refused to co-operate.
Other speakers in this debate have listed some of the abuses in the criminal justice system highlighted by the lawyers. I have time to mention only two or three of them. Children are arrested in the night and removed from their homes without a parent being able to accompany them; they are not given access to lawyers as of right; and they often get representation only when they appear in court. Small numbers of children have even been held in solitary confinement and few children are granted bail after arrest. Numerous children appear to have suffered physical abuse after arrest. Unless this system is reformed, more and more of these children will be damaged and embittered. They will come out of custody determined to have their revenge. This cannot be in the long-term interests of Israel and its people.
My Lords, I much appreciate being allowed to speak in the gap. I was in listening mode, but I felt that the House should be reminded of a certain amount of history. During World War II, more than 30,000 Jewish members of the Palestinian mandate volunteered to serve with British forces—they were not called up—and many of them undertook extremely perilous roles. When I served in the Royal Air Force in 1954, I took my leave in Israel, having got there via Cyprus. I shall bring up only one aspect of the atmosphere there, which I am sure my noble friend Lord Cope will appreciate: I attended a performance of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto which was played in the orange groves by the Jewish agency at the time. That was quite an experience. The famous Barenboim orchestra of Palestinians and Israelis is also really quite special.
I was heavily involved in the initial peace process in 1994, which started when several of us went over to meet Yasser Arafat, Rabin and King Hussein. Very soon after that, for your Lordships’ interest, one of my companies was building the Ben Gurion Airport and employing thousands of Palestinians, who were extremely good at construction. I was asked by the Prime Minister of the time whether I would be prepared to build a township in the West Bank. I refused, saying I did not think that could help any peace process in the longer run.
Hamas believes in one thing only and wants to wipe out Israel. In case anybody thinks that Israel wants to wipe anybody else out, this is a very different situation and obviously has a massive effect on the Israeli population. When you think of how the Israelis are considered, it is unbelievable that the Israel Defense Forces would ever use women and children as human shields.
Later, you had Sharon setting up Kadima as a peace party. I had the pleasure of meeting Mahmoud Abbas many times, and the only sadness is that up to now he has not led from the front much more to see whether a real peace process can be achieved. The only real or warm friend, who has been tireless and put his own future at risk, is King Abdullah of Jordan.
However, there is hope. I do not how many of your Lordships are aware of the work I happen to be involved in with the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital in east Jerusalem. It is an extraordinary institution, which serves Palestinians, and of course it is children who have huge problems with eye diseases. But who is behind it? The Hadassah Medical Center has for decades been training people and lending people and kit, right the way through. They work hugely well together, and it is marvellous to think that you have people like that rising right above the politics of the area.
From my personal experience, having wandered around Ramallah and Gaza—I have been there umpteen times—the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians, particularly the women in Palestine, want and deserve peace. I suggest to my noble friend that one day, I hope in my lifetime, everybody in this House will think it absolutely marvellous when it is announced that the peace process has happened.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend—or former noble friend, temporarily—and congratulate him on initiating this debate. It is incredibly important that we discuss these issues. I also welcome the noble Baroness to the Front Bench. I am really pleased to see her responding today to the first of what I hope will be many more exchanges in the months and years to come.
As a number of noble Lords have indicated, peace and reconciliation are the only secure way to improve the condition of children across the region. The targeting of civilians must be condemned from whatever quarter, but indiscriminate rocket fire into Israel is clearly a violation of international humanitarian law and must end. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, the really important element of this debate is constantly to emphasise the process of reconciliation. But a situation where ordinary people are punished for the acts of groups they have nothing to do with will ultimately make peace harder to achieve. Only a permanent ceasefire that addresses the root causes of the conflict can bring lasting security to both Israelis and Palestinians. A two-state solution that guarantees a viable future for both Palestinians and Israelis must remain the goal of the international community. But the pathway to achieving this must start with the protection of rights and security for all. As my noble friend Lady Massey said, we will never be able to challenge the culture of mistrust and violence while communities are condemned to a future without hope and to live in an environment that is uninhabitable.
The UK, I am proud to say, has played its part in trying to restore hope. In August 2015, DfID agreed an additional donation of £3 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency to help keep open 685 Palestinian schools—an important element of ensuring that peace and security. These projects are essential in delivering basic education for 500,000 Palestinian refugee children. Could the Minister update the House on the progress of this project and say whether DfID plans to support other similar efforts to support children going to school?
DfID is the third largest donor to UNRWA’s general fund and emergency appeals, providing over £43 million, and has also supported intercommunal projects. We had a debate not so long ago focusing on some of those, and I hope the Minister will be able to update the House on some of these projects. One was about building understanding among schoolchildren, and all those issues we have been discussing today. I hope she can give us a progress report.
Last year, as noble Lords have mentioned, the Government launched a review into their funding of the Palestinian territories after allegations that funds were going towards incitement projects and the payment of so-called salaries to convicted Palestinian terrorists by the Palestinian Authority. DfID confirmed it was already undertaking such an examination as part of its bilateral aid review, to consider how it can best support progress towards a negotiated two-state solution. Earlier in the year, we were told that the review would be completed in the spring. A few weeks ago in this Chamber, the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said it would be completed in the summer. I have previously expressed my concern about the capacity of DfID to deliver not only the review but the outcomes of the review. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, indicated that the Government had brought the multilateral, bilateral and civil society reviews together to give a much more focused picture of how we can deliver better in those countries where there is most need. Can the Minister confirm whether DfID will continue the review of its programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as part of that bilateral aid review and whether this is still scheduled to report at the same time? That will hopefully be in the summer, but seasons seem to be a movable feast for this Government sometimes.
According to the press reports that I have seen in preparation for this debate, Israeli occupation authorities have put 65 Palestinian children under house arrest and 12 others in administrative detention since the start of this year. Noble Lords referred to the case of a 14 year-old Palestinian boy, who on 19 July was sentenced to six and a half years’ imprisonment. That boy is one of 414 Palestinian children currently imprisoned by Israel, most of whom are imprisoned on charges of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. Like my noble friend Lady Blackstone, I ask the Minister what efforts the Government have made and what discussions they have had with the Israeli authorities to address this incredibly worrying trend, which is in violation of UN conventions.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, also highlighted, in opening this debate, the rate of demolition of Palestinian houses and structures, in particular in Area C of the West Bank, which has spiralled since 2016. So far this year, a total of 522 homes or other community structures, including animal shelters and solar panels, have been destroyed or confiscated, affecting 2,231 Palestinians, half of them children. The total number for 2015 was 453 demolitions and confiscations in this area, so there is a worrying growth trend. The number of demolitions in February was the highest in a single month since the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs began documenting demolitions in 2009. Since the resumption of structured dialogue between the EU and Israel on 15 March, 170 Palestinian structures, including 49 EU donor-funded aid projects, have been demolished or confiscated. We have heard in this debate that to build a sustainable two-state solution, we need to ensure that both sides feel secure, but more than 42% of the West Bank has been allocated by Israel to regional settlement councils for construction, shrinking the space that will be available for Palestinians to build that sustainable state.
I welcome the support given by the UK Government to the EU funding guidelines for Israeli settlements and to companies about trading with them. According to a 2013 World Bank report, Israel’s control of only Area C in the West Bank cost the Palestinian economy $2.1 billion a year, or 35% of its GDP. Ultimately, the value of the UK’s aid to the region will continue to be seriously undermined by the economic damage caused to the Palestinian economy by settlements.
We must also focus our support on the conditions necessary for functioning and effective Palestinian political representation across the entire Occupied Palestinian Territories. We have heard in the debate that, despite limited progress, reconstruction in Gaza following the conflict in 2015 has not gone smoothly. More than 8,000 destroyed homes have not even been touched yet, and 20% of water and sewerage networks have not been fully restored. I completely understand what my noble friend Lord Turnberg said about some of the reasons for that, but we need to focus on it. The international community had responded generously following that conflict, but the need for aid is increasing. The nearly decade-long Israeli siege has had major consequences for Gaza. Of the 1.8 million people living in the 360 square kilometres, 43% are without work, making it the highest unemployment rate in the world.
We have seen the development of a Palestinian area that has become incredibly dependent on aid. If we are to break that cycle, we need to provide more than simply facilities, we need to provide hope. I conclude by saying that I want a secure future for Israel. I believe the best way to achieve it is to give hope to Palestinian children.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Warner, on securing this important debate and thanking him and all noble Lords for their valuable contributions. I also thank my noble friend Lord Polak and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for their kind words of welcome.
The Occupied Palestinian Territories are suffering from a protracted crisis in which the rights of men, women, boys and girls living under occupation are not protected. The lack of political progress towards a two-state solution and an increasingly volatile region pose significant risks not just to stability but to the lives, liberties and security of ordinary Palestinians.
As we have heard, children are particularly vulnerable, and the statistics are truly harrowing. Over 90% of Palestinian children and young people have experienced some form of psychological or physical violence: 540 children were killed during the Gaza conflict in 2014 and more than 350,000 suffered from psychosocial distress. Children continue to be affected as the wave of violence persists across the Occupied Territories. In 2015, 247 Palestinian children were injured in the West Bank and 13 were killed. By just April of this year, 20 had been killed.
Children continue to be injured by clashes at demonstrations and military operations, to be attacked by settlers and to experience harassment at checkpoints. On top of this, a concerning number of children have been forcibly displaced as a result of the demolition of Palestinian structures and the destruction of donor-funded assistance in Area C.
The occupation has a significant impact on children’s access to basic services. The rights of Palestinian children to education are obstructed by lack of safe access and attacks on schools. Healthcare is also compromised, particularly in Gaza, by the restrictions on staff movement, the difficulties patients face accessing specialist services outside Gaza, and the obstacles that exist to expanding health facilities to meet the needs of a growing population. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that there is an urgent need to address the terrible situation in Gaza. UK aid is saving lives and providing services, but we need a more sustainable political solution. We have frequent discussions with Israel about the need to ease restrictions on Gaza.
This is why DfID’s work in the Occupied Territories is so important. DfID is providing essential basic services to Palestinians across the Occupied Territories, helping to build a capable and accountable Palestinian state, promoting economic prosperity and supporting the most vulnerable, including young people, girls and women. Indeed, the UK’s support is targeted on improving the lives of ordinary Palestinians, with a targeted impact on children in particular. As the third-largest donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, we have helped to provide: basic services to more than 5 million Palestinian refugees across the region, a basic education to more than 490,000 children, access to health services for almost 3.1 million Palestinian refugees, and food and cash transfers for more than 290,000 of the poorest people—many of whom would otherwise have no social safety net.
The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, raised concerns about Palestinian children in the Middle East region. Palestinian refugees in Syria and neighbouring countries are a highly vulnerable group. The UK has been supporting UNRWA and other UN partners to ensure their needs are addressed both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries. In addition to all this, UNRWA’s health centres in Gaza provide a one-stop shop offering primary healthcare, psychosocial services and legal counselling. Through DfID’s support to UNRWA’s work in the West Bank, almost 1,000 counselling sessions were carried out in 2015.
The UK’s work also includes vital support to the Palestinian Authority to build Palestinian institutions and promote economic growth so that any future Palestinian state will be a prosperous and effective partner for peace. The UK’s funding to the PA also helps to deliver essential education and health services which, over the past five years, has enabled thousands of young Palestinians to go to school and to get immunised against communicable diseases.
My noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom raised the issue of Palestinian Authority civil servants. I assure him that only named civil servants from a pre-approved EU list are eligible, and the vetting process ensures that our funds do not benefit terrorist groups. We monitor any allegations of incitement closely and regularly raise instances with both the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel. I also address his question on the PEGASE mechanism, which earmarks funds to payment of vetted Palestinian Authority civil servants and pensioners. The list of approved recipients is subject to a vetting process that includes screening against international sanctions lists; the screening covers over 20 different risk categories, including terrorism financing, and is updated daily.
As noble Lords are aware, the promotion of economic development is at the top of DfID’s agenda, which includes helping the private sector to get back to business in Gaza. By supporting economic development in the Occupied Territories and increasing the number of available jobs, we are helping to create economic security for families, building resilience, and safeguarding children’s well-being. Indeed, DfID’s Palestinian market development programme has created approximately 1,000 new jobs and supported 393 companies, nearly 40% of which are owned or managed by women, to increase their sales. DfID has also worked to address the needs of the most vulnerable Palestinians living in Gaza. In providing over £29 million over the last five years, helping to create temporary jobs for almost 50,000 vulnerable refugees and providing food vouchers to over 30,000 households, the UK has improved the food security of over 470,000 Gazans.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, mentioned co-existence. The UK is supportive of co-existence programmes, which bring together Palestinians and Israelis and foster intercommunity understanding. DfID officials are currently identifying options for providing support to co-existence programmes.
I share noble Lords’ concern about the number of children who are held in military detention. In mid-April this year, 440 children were held in military detention, which denies them a number of vital legal protections, although that number had decreased to approximately 260 children by June. It is also alarming that 87% of children arrested in 2015 reported that painful restraints and hand ties were used during the arrest process, despite Israeli military regulations forbidding that. UK diplomats in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem regularly raise issues of concern with the Israeli Government and authorities, and through this engagement we have seen some improvements in the treatment of children in detention, particularly in the end to use of solitary confinement. While we welcomed progress made in recent Israeli policy amendments, we will continue to raise our concerns, and encourage the relevant authorities to protect rights of any children who are detained, including introducing mandatory audio-visual equipment for all interrogations.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stone, for the important points that he raised. Every Israeli and Palestinian has the right to live in peace and security and only a negotiated two-state solution will resolve the conflict and end the occupation. We believe that peace will come only through negotiations between the parties, but international action involving regional players could play a role in supporting progress.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, mentioned the condition of children in other countries. He will be aware of the opportunities available to secure a debate in this House on the conditions of children in other countries. The UK led the international community in securing the ambitious new sustainable development goals, which have the concept of “leave no one behind” at their heart.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark made a point on the use of live fire. The UK is very concerned about the high numbers of Palestinians killed by Israeli defence forces across the Occupied Territories. We have raised those cases with the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, with the relevant Israeli authority for the Occupied Territories and with the National Security Council.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, spoke also about international law. The UK repeatedly calls on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law and have a regular dialogue with Israel on legal issues relating to the occupation, including the treatment of Palestinian children in military custody.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, raised the issue of settlements, which are illegal under international law. They present an obstacle to peace and take us further away from a two-state solution. We strongly urge the Government of Israel to reverse their policy.
Both my noble friend Lord Cope and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke about the Palestine Youth Orchestra, which is truly inspiring and uplifting. I am delighted that it is playing across Scotland this weekend, and in my city of Glasgow on 26 July.
The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, raised an important point about working towards understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. Noble Lords will agree that most people have the same universal aspirations of safety, the opportunity to make a living and some hope for the future.
To the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on the bilateral aid review and the multilateral and other aid reviews, I would say that my right honourable friend the International Development Secretary is currently considering the outcomes of the department’s multilateral and bilateral aid reviews, and will aim to publish them shortly.
UK aid is making a positive difference in the Occupied Territories to the lives of men, women, boys and girls—first, by supporting stability and growing the economy; secondly, by delivering basic services; and, thirdly, by protecting the most vulnerable. That said, the long-term protection of the rights and opportunities of Palestinians can come only through a negotiated two-state solution. I mention again the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark about recognising the state of Palestine. We will recognise a Palestinian state when we judge that it can best bring about peace, but bilateral recognition in itself will not end the occupation. Without a negotiated settlement, the occupation and the problems that come with it will continue. UK aid will continue to help, but for the sake of children in both Israel and the Occupied Territories, we need a just resolution that ends the occupation and delivers lasting peace.
My Lords, I am grateful to most of those who have spoken in this debate, and congratulations to the Minister on a very balanced and helpful response. I am not an enemy of Israel. I was brought up early on in my Civil Service career and indoctrinated by Dick Crossman, who was a great friend of Israel over many years.
I shall make just two points. There has been talk in this debate about incitement by the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority. I can think of no greater incitement than a 50-year military occupation in which you watch illegal settlers take over your land. That seems to me to be a very considerable incitement. If we do not deal with that issue, we will continue to have violence.
Lastly, I shall say a little about Israel and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. If you sign a UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it does not mean that you can pick and choose which children you apply it to in the country for which you are responsible. If you are in the West Bank you see that convention applied to one lot of children but not to another. That goes on day after day. That is the situation we have at the moment. The Government need to be a little more energetic about applying pressure on Israel to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law.
Motion to Take Note