I beg to move,
That this House has considered child prisoners and detainees in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I wish you and everyone here a happy new year.
In June 2012, a delegation of leading British lawyers published a report on children held in Israeli military custody. That independent report was facilitated and funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, based on a number of undisputed facts, found that Israel was in breach of six of its legal obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child and two obligations under the fourth Geneva convention. The report also concluded that if allegations of abuse referred to the delegation were true, Israel would also be in breach of the absolute prohibition against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Eight months after the UK report was published, UNICEF released its own assessment of the military detention system for children. After reviewing the available evidence, including over 400 sworn affidavits from children detained in a system with a jurisdiction to prosecute 12-year-olds in military courts, UNICEF concluded that,
“the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing”.
Following release of these damming reports into a system of martial law that is now in its 49th year, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that,
“it would study the conclusions and work to implement them through on-going cooperation with UNICEF”.
Similar statements were made following the release of the UK report and the issue has been subject to much discussion between our two Governments during the intervening three years.
As part of those ongoing discussions, British officials have raised a number of specific issues with their Israeli counterparts, including the use of painful plastic ties to restrain children, arresting children in the middle of the night in terrifying military raids, and the mandatory use of audiovisual recording of all interrogations. In response to these interventions, the Israeli military issued standard operating procedures for the use of restraints and introduced a pilot study to use summonses instead of night-time arrests. However, in February 2015, UNICEF issued an update to its original report and noted that allegations of
“alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014”.
Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab)
I visited the west bank with my hon. Friend in September 2015 with the Council for Arab-British Understanding and Medical Aid for Palestinians, and we were briefed by Military Court Watch. Does my hon. Friend share my concern at the significant disparity between treatment of Palestinian and Israeli young people, including lack of legal representation and parental support, allegations of widespread abuse and having to sign confessions in Hebrew, among many others?
I share those concerns and will come to them. The disparity between the two legal systems includes, for example, a maximum period of detention without charge of 40 days for an Israeli child and 188 days for a Palestinian child.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this incredibly important debate. She is speaking eloquently in listing the human rights abuses in Israel and indicating that warm words to encourage Israel to act differently are not working. Does she agree that it is now time for action? For example, the UK could call for the suspension of the EU-Israel association agreement, which has a clause saying that if there are human rights abuses, there is a right to suspend the agreement. How can the agreement still be in place with that human rights clause when Israel completely ignores human rights concerns year after year?
I agree with the hon. Lady. That recommendation is superb and there are others.
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)
My hon. Friend makes an important point, but does she accept that the context in which these situations occur is an organised campaign conducted by the Palestinian authorities of incitement, to try to provoke young Palestinians to carry out acts of violence towards other civilians, some of which result in death, including the death of young children?
I take on board my hon. Friend’s point. However, this debate is about the different treatment of Palestinian and Israeli children, and the breach of human rights and international law. I completely agree that if someone has committed a crime, they should be dealt with appropriately and with due process, but that is not what is happening at the moment.
Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con)
On the specific point made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about human rights abuses and whether that should result in a breach of our relationship with Israel, did not UNICEF, which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) quoted, highlight alleged human rights abuses of minors in the UK who were arrested during the 2011 London riots?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but I am talking specifically about detention of Palestinian children. If he wants to bring his point forward in another debate, I am sure that this Chamber will be equally packed.
Jo Cox (Batley and Spen) (Lab)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. She will be aware that evidence from Military Court Watch suggests that 65% of children continue to report being arrested at night in what are described as terrifying raids by the military. Will she comment on that worrying fact?
It is disturbing. A pilot study looked at not doing night raids and issuing summonses instead, but the summonses were issued after midnight, which defeated the whole object.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con)
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this undoubtedly important debate. The context in which Israel operates on the west bank is obviously incredibly difficult and none of us would want to find ourselves in it. With that in mind, will she comment on the failure of the Palestinian Authority to work with the Israeli authorities on the west bank on alternatives to detention? She knows full well that they will not engage in such alternatives. I hope that she also knows full well that the difficulty of arresting people during the day instead of the night is that it has led to deaths and riots. The authorities are operating in a very difficult context.
There are two points and I will come to some conclusions. There is a role for the British Government to work with both sides, and I accept that there are failings on both sides. However, the reason for riots when children have been arrested during the day is largely the inhumane treatment of those children. I understand why a parent would be extremely upset if their child was detained. The very fact that the Israel Defence Forces go in at night shows how hostile their behaviour is.
Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the context is the illegal occupation since 1967? Does she also agree that one of the most egregious elements is the difference between the treatment of Israeli children in illegal settlements and Palestinian children? Israeli children are subject to the rule of law; Palestinian children are not.
That is the nub of this debate and I appreciate the fact that my hon. Friend brought it forward. If there are no more interventions, I will make some headway.
UNICEF’s findings are corroborated by evidence collected by Military Court Watch, an organisation made up predominantly of lawyers working in the region, indicating that ill-treatment within the system still seems to be “widespread, systematic and institutionalized” as of last month. In spite of UK and UN intervention, the most recent evidence indicates that the majority of children continue to be arrested in terrifying night-time military raids. In the few cases when summonses are used, most are delivered by the military after midnight and much of the information is written in Hebrew.
Some 93% of children continue to be restrained with plastic ties, many painfully so, and the standard operating procedures are frequently ignored. Around 80% of children continue to be blindfolded or hooded, a practice that the UK and UNICEF reports said should be absolutely prohibited. Audiovisual recording of interrogations has been mandated only in non-security-related offences, which means that nearly 90% of cases involving children, including those accused of attending a demonstration, continue to take place without this practical safeguard.
Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that the reports of physical abuse—consisting mainly of punching, kicking, position abuse and slapping, but in some cases also including more serious allegations, such as of being mauled by dogs and receiving electric shocks—are now higher in number than they were in 2013.
As for the scale of the problem, Military Court Watch estimates that since June 1967 about 95,000 Palestinian children have been detained by the Israeli military. Of those, 59,000 are likely to have been physically abused in one way or another. That abuse is truly disturbing and is on an industrial scale. Why is it that after so much effort, so little progress has been made? Is there something inherent in the situation in Palestine that prevents genuine change? When I visited Israel and Palestine in September 2015 as part of a cross-party Council for Arab-British Understanding and Medical Aid for Palestinians delegation, it became apparent why little has changed during the three intervening years.
To understand the situation, one must think like an Israeli defence force soldier. Essentially, the Israeli military have but one mission in Palestine—to guarantee the protection of nearly 600,000 Israeli civilians living in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the west bank—an unenviable task for any military to be given. To achieve their mission, the military must engage in a strategy of mass intimidation and collective punishment of the Palestinian population, or risk the eviction of the settlers. That inevitably leads to fear, resentment and friction. [Interruption.]
Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
Order. Somebody at the back of the room is taking photographs. That is not allowed.
Thank you, Mr Chope.
As I was saying, that inevitably leads to fear, resentment and friction, often resulting in the military detention of Palestinian civilians, including children, or, to put it another way, how else could 600,000 Israeli civilians safely go about their daily lives while residing in illegal settlements in occupied territory for nearly 50 years? It is no coincidence that the one thing that all detained children have in common is that they live at a friction point located within a few kilometres of an Israeli settlement or a road used by Israeli settlers. At those friction points, the military make their presence felt through night raids, violent incursions, suppression of demonstrations, arrests and roadblocks—a fact repeatedly confirmed by former Israeli soldiers in their testimonies to the group Breaking the Silence.
Does my hon. Friend really believe that the solution to this horrendous conflict between two peoples—the Israeli and the Palestinian people—can be found by encouraging individual child Palestinians to commit acts of violence against other human beings?
My personal view is that there have been atrocities on both sides, but my feeling is that the way to reach a solution is to treat all individuals, both children and adults, as humans and respectfully, and I do not believe that that is happening at the moment.
Another explanation as to why so little progress has been made during the past three years is that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs delegated the task of implementing UNICEF’s recommendations to Israel’s military prosecutor in the west bank, who is himself a resident of an illegal settlement. That fact alone raises serious questions as to whether the Israeli authorities have any genuine intention to bring about meaningful change in accordance with their international legal obligations.
As troubling as the lack of progress may be, another issue strikes closer to home, because it highlights a blatant disregard for the international legal order established after the second world war and accordingly has the potential to endanger us all. One recommendation in the UK and UNICEF reports was as follows:
“All Palestinian children detained under Israeli military law should be held in facilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and not in Israel, which constitutes a breach of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Our own Government have confirmed that legal conclusion in writing. Sadly, the latest figures released by the Israel prison service, a Government body, indicate that since that recommendation was made, the percentage of Palestinian children being transferred to prison facilities inside Israel has actually gone up and now stands at 56%.
Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend share my concern about British companies, such as G4S, that are operating prison facilities and illegally detaining Palestinian children in Israel, and about movements by the UK Government to stop local authorities divesting from companies that are committing atrocities in the occupied territories?
That is a very real concern, which I will shortly come on to.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Israeli authorities, if they are to make any attempt at democracy, should implement democratic laws in particular? These children, if they are guilty of wrongdoing, should be handed to civilian authorities and civilian courts.
That is the nub of the problem: the Israeli children are tried in civilian courts, but the Palestinian children are largely tried in military courts.
The allegation is that Israel is attempting, through various processes, to annex the west bank, but the imposition of civil Israeli law on the west bank would be an annexation of the west bank. It is a standard rule under UN provisions that an occupying force uses military laws and justice. Any attempt to implement the Israeli legal system would be an annexation of the west bank.
I have heard that argument before and I hope that I will deal with it in the forthcoming part of my speech.
In the case of adults, the percentage rises such that a staggering 86% are in Israeli prisons. That affects between 7,000 and 8,000 individuals annually. To make matters worse—if that were possible—the military authorities have now informed UNICEF that they have no intention of changing that policy. It is striking that of the 38 recommendations made by UNICEF, the one stating that Palestinian children from the west bank should be held in facilities located in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is the only recommendation that UNICEF declares has been “rejected” by the Israeli authorities.
There is an unfortunate UK link when it comes to those prisons, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) highlighted. As I am sure everyone here is aware, our own G4S is providing services to the prisons that hold Palestinian detainees following their unlawful transfer from the west bank, in violation of the convention. Those commercial contracts are set to continue until 2017, even though they have been officially held to be inconsistent with the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises.
To understand why any of this matters, it is worth briefly considering the legal provisions that prohibit transfer, and why they were thought necessary in the first place. Article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention specifically prohibits the transfer of protected persons accused or convicted of offences from an occupied territory. It is unnecessary to consider whether the convention applies to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the status of Palestine as an occupied territory, as both those issues have been authoritatively determined by the UN Security Council in legally binding resolutions and that has been accepted by successive British Governments, putting the question beyond any sensible dispute.
The articles of the convention are accompanied by a commentary provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose role includes monitoring the compliance of warring parties with the convention. The commentary makes it clear that the prohibition on transferring protected persons from occupied territory, for whatever reason, stems from the experiences of the second world war, when, as we all know, mass transfers in Europe were commonplace. Determined to avoid a repetition of those experiences, the authors of the fourth Geneva convention voted unanimously in favour of prohibiting unlawful deportation or transfer.
Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab)
“My hands were tied in front of me, so I kept reaching up to pull the blindfold off, but the soldiers kept pulling my hands down to stop me. I just wanted to go home to my dad.” That was a nine-year-old. Does my hon. Friend agree that if that behaviour happened in any of our constituencies, we would be outraged?
I think that the whole room gasped when my hon. Friend read that out. We would be outraged, and I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the fact that that behaviour is happening on an industrial scale.
Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab)
Will my hon. Friend give way for a factual point?
As I understand it, the age of legal responsibility in Israel and Palestine is 12. A nine-year-old could not be detained—they just could not. It does not happen.
I completely understand my hon. Friend’s incredulity, but unfortunately it does happen. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office sent out an incredibly highly regarded group of lawyers, who witnessed this and who spoke to people and to the judges. I agree that it should never happen, but unfortunately it does.
I will just go back a bit. Determined to avoid repeating those experiences, the authors of the fourth Geneva convention voted unanimously in favour of prohibiting unlawful deportation or transfer, including the transfer of detainees, and designated the practice a “grave breach” of the convention, requiring severe penal sanctions as a deterrent.
To appreciate how seriously the House views a grave breach of the convention, we need to look at the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, which provides that any person who
“commits, or aids, abets or procures the commission by any other person of a grave breach…is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 30 years”
if convicted. Similarly, the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court, to which the UK and Palestine are states parties, and the obligations of which have been incorporated into UK domestic law, lists:
“Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement”
of protected persons as a war crime requiring heavy sanctions.
In this debate, I am putting aside the fact that transfer makes it more difficult for Palestinian families from the west bank to visit loved ones held in detention facilities in Israel. The issue I am talking about is key, because it is a violation of the fourth Geneva convention. A violation of such magnitude and duration undermines the credibility of the international legal order and its institutions, and has adverse implications for the rule of law in the region and beyond. Either alleged war crimes must be investigated, without fear or favour, where they occur; or we must accept the risk that our inaction and our turning a blind eye may eventually destroy the international legal order that was established after the second world war. That would be an enormous tragedy, because it would mean that we had abandoned whatever lessons we had learned from that conflict. I suspect that we all agree that this nation has shed too much blood, sweat and tears to abandon those hard-won principles, which were entrusted to us by those who came before us, and of which we are temporary custodians.
The transfer of detainees en masse from occupied territory is a stand-alone issue, because it is a war crime. It is not contingent on the presence or absence of peace talks. It should not be contingent on one political view or another. After nearly half a century, it requires decisive action in accordance with our international legal obligations. The fourth Geneva convention makes it clear that the UK has a positive legal obligation to search for persons accused of committing grave breaches of the convention, regardless of their nationality, and to ensure that if such persons enter the UK, they are arrested and prosecuted with all speed. That is why I recommend that in order to begin to fulfil our legal obligations, we must establish and maintain a watch list of all known war crime suspects, whoever they may be. We should know, at all times, who is coming into this country, whether we need to be concerned and what action we are legally obliged to take. As a nation, we must send a strong message that we will no longer tolerate the commission of war crimes on such an industrial scale, and that we are a people who honour our commitments.
I would like the Minister to act on five points. I would like him to establish a watch list that includes the names of all who commit, aid, abet and procure the commission by another person of the unlawful transfer of protected persons—adults and children—from occupied territories to prisons in Israel. I want him to ensure that any individual on the watch list who attempts to enter the UK is detained for questioning and, if sufficient evidence is available, charged and prosecuted, subject to the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
I would like the Minister to continue to lobby the Israeli Government to cease the practice of unlawfully transferring protected persons—adults and children—from the occupied territory, and to relay the concerns of this House that that practice undermines international legal order. I would like him to continue to lobby the Israeli Government to implement all 40 recommendations included in the UK report, and to monitor whether any changes to military detention systems are translating into tangible improvements on the ground and resulting in a substantial reduction in the level of reported abuse.
Finally, what is the UK Government’s response to Israel’s reported decision to reject UNICEF recommendation 13, which was echoed in the UK lawyers’ report, and which states:
“In accordance with international law, all Palestinian children detained in the Israeli military detention system shall be held in facilities located in the occupied Palestinian territory”?
Several hon. Members
Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
Order. As hon. Members can see, there are many more people standing than there will be time to accommodate, because we are going to start the wind-ups at 10.30 am. I therefore ask those who are fortunate enough to catch the Chair’s eye to exercise self-restraint, and I hope that an example will be set by Mr John Howell.
John Howell (Henley) (Con)
I shall be brief, Mr Chope. I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for securing the debate, and it is a great pleasure to follow her. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The context for the debate is the level of incitement against the state of Israel from the Palestinian territories. Both Israel and the Palestinians are legally bound to abstain from incitement and hostile propaganda in accordance with the Oslo agreement and the 2003 road map, which called on all Palestinian institutions to end incitement against Israel. The Palestinian Authority’s failure to deliver on its commitment to end incitement and hate education explicitly undermines the principles and conditions on which the peace process is built.
In that context, the level of continuing incitement from the Palestinian Authority is hard to believe. Considering the use of young people in the incitement process, it is quite amazing that the state of Israel has made the changes that it has to the process by which it deals with that serious matter. The majority of arrests, for example, occur during the day, and those that are conducted at night are done at that time to minimise the danger to Israelis and Palestinians, including Israel defence forces.
The interrogation procedure is carried out in Arabic, not in Hebrew, and statements are written in Arabic. Appeals can be made to the courts that have been set up to hear the cases, and all minors brought before the court during the investigation or thereafter are represented by lawyers of their choice, provided by them or by the Palestinian Authority.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the process being conducted in Arabic, but we do not have evidence of that because it is not being recorded. Will he comment on access to lawyers? The maximum period of detention without access to a lawyer is 48 hours for an Israeli child, but 90 days for a Palestinian child.
I believe that the hon. Lady is wrong about the evidence that interrogations are held in Arabic. I have the figure for investigations of which an audio or audio-visual recording was made. The number of cases in 2013 and 2014—the figures that I have—in which the investigating officer recorded the hearings is about the same, at about the 300 to 400 mark.
We are being unfairly selective against Israel, when we should focus our attention on the Saudi execution of minors. The point should also be made that the Palestinian Authority are responsible for human rights violations in the west bank, including the detention of journalists critical of the Palestinian Authority and the detention of peaceful demonstrators. In 2014—according to a Palestinian non-governmental organisation, so the figures are independent—some 2,500 Palestinian children in the west bank had been arrested by the Palestinian Authority. A number of those children were mistreated, and I will give some examples. One 15-year-old Palestinian was arrested on 24 April 2015 after a group of youths threw rocks at Palestinian Authority forces. He was beaten on his head, arm and foot with a rifle butt by a Palestinian Authority policeman.
If hon. Members want another example, in August 2015, a 14-year-old Palestinian suffered a broken arm and bruises when he was seriously beaten by a Palestinian Authority police officer who was breaking up a fight. Of the 81 Palestinian children whom the NGO had identified and provided legal aid to in 2014, almost half had suffered some form of physical violence at the hands of Palestinian police and security forces, so the argument here is not at all about just one side—that it is Israel that is the perpetrator of these attacks on children.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the biggest issues, of course, is incitement. Does he share my concern about the container of children’s dolls that was headed for the Palestinian territories? I have brought one with me today—although we are not allowed to use aids. Each doll is dressed up, has a rock in its hand and has messages saying, “Jerusalem is ours” and “We are coming for Jerusalem” on it. A child with a rock in its hand—how on earth are we ever going to get peace between these two peoples when children are incited from a young age into committing what are, quite often, very serious acts of violence that have resulted in death?
I agree with my hon. Friend. His example is a good example of the level of Palestinian incitement.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the extent of Palestinian incitement of young people to take arms and violent action almost becomes an issue of child abuse?
I agree with that. It is a question of child abuse, and we need to direct attention to the Palestinian authorities for their handling of children.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
Is not the nub of the problem the fact that there are two legal systems operating and they are not equalised? If a child happens to be Israeli, they are treated much more fairly than if they happen to be Palestinian. That is wrong and Israel should sort it.
No, the nub of this issue is that Palestinian incitement continues. As long as it does, we will not get peace in the area. We have to end the Palestinian incitement. I urge the Foreign Office to take action on that.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not give way; I will finish there.
Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
I will speak briefly, although I must first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on an excellent speech and on securing the debate. The number of Members in attendance—I think there are almost 50—shows the importance that is given to this issue. I am sure that we will not do justice to the number of briefings we have received. I will only refer to one, which is from Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights. It goes beyond the many compelling individual cases that we have read about in those briefings and talks about the basic legal issues.
To return to the point I made in my intervention, paragraph 4 of that briefing says:
“There is an inextricable link between the systemic human rights violations of Palestinian children held in military detention and the overarching context of prolonged military occupation. The realisation of the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people is the optimum solution for the complete removal of ‘widespread, systematic and institutionalised’ violations against Palestinian children held in military detention.”
Now, some of my hon. Friends may think that that is rather stating the obvious, but given some of the comments today, I think it is worth putting on the record because some Members seem to be living in an Alice in Wonderland world. The speech that we have just heard is very illustrative of that point because, according to that, the blame for all that goes wrong in the occupied territories apparently lies with the Palestinian people. There is a very easy solution to that, which is to let the Palestinians govern themselves. Last year, this House voted to allow them to police themselves in that way and not to lead to this situation.
Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I will speak for one or two minutes at most, hopefully setting a better example than the previous speaker in relation to the time limit.
I will simply make two points. The first is that the differential treatment between Israeli children in settlements—settlements that are illegal under international law, as this Government recognise—and Palestinian children is symptomatic of the apartheid regime that exists on the west bank and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israeli Government Ministers are quite open now that they want annexation—they refer to the area of the west bank as Judaea and Samaria. There is no longer any pretence, and Government Members—and, indeed, Opposition Members—who seek to defend the occupation are increasingly clutching at straws in doing so.
Finally I make a plea to the Minister. His Government have a poor record on human rights. His senior Foreign Office officials have said it is no longer a priority. We have seen what they are now saying about torture and the death penalty in relation to membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council. We have seen what has happened to the ministerial code. I urge the Minister—because he is a civilised man—to look at these issues and not just to come back with platitudes today, but to address them seriously and to address this issue, which clearly concerns a large number of hon. and right hon. Members. I urge him not just to go through the motions of protesting to the Israeli authorities, but to take some action and to be very clear that Britain, internationally, will not stand for this treatment of children.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
Personally, I am someone who has huge respect for what Israel has achieved since its formation on 14 May 1948. Without doubt, modern Israel has been forged and inspired by what happened in the holocaust. Obviously, its foundation goes back far beyond that, but to my mind its inspiration is the fact that Jews from across the world have and can find a safe refuge there where they will never be persecuted.
It is utterly wrong that any human being should be condemned for their race or faith, but it still happens, as we all know. For Jews, the state of Israel is thus their ultimate sanctuary and insurance policy should they feel a need for it. We all understand that. Israel is also a real democracy, in a region where the majority popular writ is not greatly seen in many Governments. As such, Israel is a modern inspired state where what people think and want can be reflected in politics. Elections matter and reflect what the majority of people want to happen. Israel also has, and should have, respect for law and order. In democracies all citizens are equal before the law.
Mr Gregory Campbell
Previously, the hon. Gentleman indicated an issue that he felt was getting to the very nub of the problem. He is now discussing the history of the origin of the state of Israel. Does he agree with me that part of the nub of the problem is that in the middle east there is still a belief among some that peace will only come with the utter annihilation of the state of Israel?
Yes, I accept that point. Of course there is that belief among some people. It is wrong. It should not happen.
It is with a certain amount of bewilderment that I watch how Israeli law in practice differs from one individual to another in an area controlled by Israel, specifically the west bank. There is certainly not equality before the law for all who live there. Jewish settlers are treated very differently from Palestinians. It worries me that two kinds of law apply in the west bank, depending on race and nationality identity. If someone transgresses and they are a Jewish settler child, they are tried under civil law, but if they are a Palestinian minor, they automatically go before a military court, which has very different procedures and punishments.
Dr Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (SNP)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I am sorry. I will not take any more interventions.
I understand and accept that legally applying civil law to Palestinians in the west bank would be tantamount to unlawful annexation of the area. I agree with that point but, when dealing with civilians, both civil and military laws should be equalised so that children—whether they are Jewish or Palestinian—are treated equally. At this point I pay tribute to Gerard Horton of Military Court Watch—a great lawyer.
According to the Israeli prison service, 407 Palestinian children aged 12 to 17 have been in military detention since 30 November 2015, which is a 33% increase on the previous month. The number of children in detention is now at its highest level since March 2009, and is 54% above the level that Foreign Office lawyers witnessed when they produced their report. Of course that is wrong. Who would not dispute circumstances in which children can be arrested at night, blindfolded and hooded? Who would dispute that lawyers should be present at every interrogation, that parents should be given the option to be present too, that all interrogations should be audio-visually recorded and, importantly, that no child should be transferred out of the west bank into Israel?
In the past, when I commanded British forces in Bosnia—I am sad to say this—I witnessed what were clearly crimes against humanity. Many people, including children, were arrested because of their race. They were ill-treated, detained and improperly locked away in totally inappropriate circumstances. It saddens me to make an analogy—I do so with huge hesitation because of my love for Israel and what it has achieved, and because of the Jewish historical experience—yet I am sorry to say that the way Palestinian children are dealt with in the west bank has some disturbing similarities with what I witnessed happening to children in the Balkans. To me it is utterly wrong that a democratic, enlightened, pro-western state such as Israel, with two different legal systems, clearly differentiates—
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will not give way.
No, I should not. It is my right.
This is a debate.
Okay, I give way. Let us hear it.
I find my hon. Friend’s comments frankly disgraceful in view of the murder of 10,000 people in Srebrenica simply because they were Muslim. To make that comparison is unworthy.
I am so sorry, but I disagree. I am not making a comparison with Srebrenica.
You just did.
No, I am not making a comparison with Srebrenica. I was there; you weren’t.
It is wrong for there to be differentiation between systems, and that is the whole point of this debate. Please, Israel, we want this to stop. What is happening is plainly against international law and practice. It must stop. If it does not, people such as me, who actually are big supporters of Israel, will lose the urge to be supporters. Please, Israel, sort this out.
Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I personally thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for bringing this extremely important debate to the House today.
I will be brief because so many Members wish to speak, and I will address some specific issues relevant to my background understanding. First, psychological research shows that children, particularly young children, are prone to suggestibility when interrogated under pressure, which makes it more likely that confessions or evidence given in such circumstances will be unreliable if the child is not treated as a vulnerable witness and accordingly given full rights. Those rights would normally include the presence of a lawyer and an appropriate adult for support and, as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) described, the video recording of interviews to ensure that children understand what they are asked, to ensure that the way in which it is asked is not leading or suggestive and to ensure that evidence is not gained through emotional pressure, perceived threat or actual threat. Trained interviewers who are skilled in interviewing minors should be involved. Those are only some of the many safeguards accorded to child witnesses in the UK, in line with our best practice guidance. As a psychologist, I feel that such guidance must be enacted across the world in any situation in which children are interviewed.
The lengthy detention of children in the circumstances described has an impact, particularly upon their psychological health, which is likely to be gravely affected, causing concern due to the increased risk of mental health problems.
As a psychologist, will the hon. Lady comment on the likely impact on children of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorists who have murdered Israelis, presenting them as role models? What is the likely impact on children of Palestinian schools using textbooks that glorify violence and of countless examples of hatred and anti-Semitism being promoted on children’s television programmes on official Palestinian Authority TV in the west bank?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I have already spoken in other debates, including a debate on child soldiers, about children’s vulnerability to influence, which is a concern where children, in any context across the world, may be affected by influences that promote violence.
Lengthy detention is not something that we would advocate; treatment is the optimal response, because we are dealing with children. If we imagine our own children being detained for a lengthy period in another country where there may be limited access to family, and where they are living in fear and uncertainty for their future and with a lack of appropriate support, we would feel distraught, helpless and angered. Our children would likely be terrified. I therefore conclude by urging the Minister to take account of the best practice to protect vulnerable children, which we hold so dear in this country, and I urge him to ensure that representations are made to Governments across the world, including Israel, on the importance of such fundamental rights, children’s human rights and legal rights, in the context described.
Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con)
I will be extremely brief. First, however, I commend the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing this important debate. She and I went on the same CAABU-organised visit to the west bank in September 2015. I declare that I am a board member of CAABU.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned context, which is all-important when considering the issues arising in this debate. The basic context is that Israel has been the occupying power in Palestine for almost the past half century. The fact that Israel is the occupying power brings certain responsibilities and duties. The question that has to be considered is whether Israel, as the occupying power in Palestine, is discharging those duties properly.
We have already heard about the two UNICEF reports, which concluded that Israel is in significant breach of its duties in Palestine. Those reports were supported by the report of United Kingdom jurists, which was funded and sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is therefore missing the point for hon. Members to suggest that there is fault on both sides. The significant point is whether there is a breach of law. If there is a breach of law on the part of Palestinian children, those Palestinian children should be dealt with in accordance with the law. The difficulty, of course, is that the legal system applied by the occupying authority in Palestine is a military legal system. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) mentioned, Palestinian children who find themselves caught up in the military court process are treated differently from Israeli children who may have committed similar crimes. I do not wish to repeat arguments that have been advanced by other hon. Members.
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not, because I am anxious that as many other hon. Members as possible should have an opportunity to speak.
The most troubling aspect of the matter is the breach of article 4 of the fourth Geneva convention, which clearly describes the transportation of people in occupied areas out of those areas as a war crime. There can be no doubt that war crimes are being committed by representatives of the Israeli authorities, which should be of extreme concern to everybody in this House and particularly Ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth office. So I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Minister as to what action the FCO proposes to take.
I will conclude by saying that Israel is a country that attracts the admiration of—I would suggest—most hon. Members who are present here in Westminster Hall today. Israel frequently styles itself as the only democracy in the region. Frankly, the way that Israel is conducting itself is in a way that should bring shame to any self-respecting democracy, and even those of us who consider ourselves to be friends of Israel should point out, in a friendly manner, that that is a matter that the Israeli authorities themselves should also address.
Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing this very important debate, and it is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope.
I will keep my speech very brief. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) referred to a doll. I would argue that people do not need dolls to promote hate and violence. What we have before us in Israel and Palestine is children between the ages of nine and 12 experiencing discrimination. I have children of my own who are aged eight and 11, but I cannot begin to imagine the trauma and the stamp on Palestinian children’s brains and hearts of hatred towards the Israeli military as they grow up and face discrimination, as well as the way they are tret in custody. So I would argue that we do not need props.
Only recently, Shin Bet told the Israeli Government that Abbas was not encouraging terror and was actually promoting peace. So, I disagree with my hon. Friends when they say that the Palestinians are promoting this kind of propaganda.
Will the hon. Member give way?
No, I will not, because I will not speak for long.
As a former chair of a mental health charity and having my own children, I really struggle to understand why the Israeli Government and the world are silent on dealing with the trauma that these Palestinian children are growing up with. Surely we know that hate breeds hate; laws aside, that is just common sense. There are children who are blindfolded and tortured. We have got evidence before us. How can my hon. Friends ignore that? How can anyone even present a counter-argument to it? We are talking about the basic humanitarian right of children, which we in this House have signed up to, and we must support these children with conviction. There should be no excuse for taking children aged nine away from their homes, detaining them and sending them to prison. That is absolutely unacceptable.
I note my hon. Friend’s comments that a child should not be detained, and I assume that she means in any circumstances. Suppose a child was involved in an act of violence that resulted in the deaths of other human beings. That is what has happened with young Palestinians throwing stones—people have been killed. In those circumstances, surely she thinks that there should be detention.
Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
Order. I thought that the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) had finished her speech, but—
Can I just respond to that question, Chair?
Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
I will allow the hon. Lady to respond, and then we will go on to the next speech.
I will respond very briefly. The fact is that the disproportionality of someone throwing a stone or a rock and being detained for it is not acceptable. That is the reality of what is happening with children.
Last February, four-year-old Adele Biton died after being critically injured by youths in a stone-throwing incident. I am just as worried as my hon. Friend is about the detention of children, but she should not minimise the crimes and violence that are taking place on the other side as well.
I will finish by clearly making the point that the Israeli Government have not provided any evidence of any child causing a death, or contributing to a death, using a stone. There is no evidence of that.
Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con)
Thank you very much, Mr Chope, for calling me to speak and I will endeavour to be brief. I commend the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for securing this debate. Obviously, it would have been great if we could have had more time for it.
I find it a sad coincidence that this is the week that unfortunately the UN human rights envoy to the Palestinian territories has resigned from his post because of lack of access to information. I urge the Minister to try to follow that up.
Many years ago during the first intifada, I reported on many matters in the region, including children who were detained by Israelis, some of whom had suffered injuries and others who had been killed. This debate is not about gunshot wounds, which unfortunately I had to report on a great deal, and it is not about mortality, which unfortunately I also had to report on many times. However, I am saddened by this debate, because every single recommendation in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office-funded report—all 40 of them—could have been written by me all those years ago during the first intifada. I did that reporting job in the hope that things would improve.
I applaud what my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said, from his viewpoint as a witness, about how children should be treated. In the occupied territories, I met children who had been subject to many of the things that we have heard about today.
I fully support the UN convention on the rights of the child, and I urge the Minister to urge the Israeli Government to support it. I also fully support the Geneva convention, and again I urge the Minister to urge the Israeli Government to support it as well.
I was a witness for two years in the occupied territories, but I have also been a witness as an MP in my constituency of Twickenham, where I witnessed a child being arrested by my local police. I had a minor flashback to my time in the occupied territories when I realised how different the experience in Twickenham was. I actually applauded my borough commander after that shift, and told him how impressed I was by my local police, because they were both clear and kind to the child in explaining what was happening to them and who they could talk to. That child was not distressed, which was an absolute contrast to all the times that I witnessed children who had been detained and undergone other experiences in the occupied territories.
Therefore, I urge the Minister to please urge the Israeli Government to adhere to all the recommendations in the report, most importantly recommendation 40:
“There needs to be a comprehensive and independent monitoring system.”
I also urge him to urge the Israeli Government to work with senior people in the military in Israel, because I never, ever met a senior military person in Israel who wanted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of children. There are people in Israel who do not support bad treatment of children.
There should be no discrimination for children whether in Gaza, Bethlehem, west Jerusalem, or east Jerusalem: they should all be treated like the child in Twickenham.
Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Ind)
I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for securing this very important debate. As a former chairman of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, this issue is very close to my heart.
The treatment of child prisoners in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is deeply concerning, counterproductive and completely discriminatory. As has already been pointed out, currently in the west bank we see two laws: Israeli civilian law, which only applies to those with Israeli citizenship; and Israeli military law, which applies to the Palestinian population.
Since 2000, at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in Israeli military detention facilities, which are notoriously bad in their treatment of children. A UN report found that out of 208 affidavits that had been collected, 91% of those spoken to reported being painfully hand-tied and 82% reported physical abuse.
Dr Paul Monaghan
Does the hon. Member agree that the current situation and the current sustained level of child imprisonment evidences a judicial process in Israel that lacks all proportionality and requires international intervention to protect victims on both sides of this conflict?
Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point.
I am conscious of time, so I will turn quickly to the issue of parents and guardians not being able to accompany their children when they have to appear before court. Many such issues come up time and again, including how children cannot or do not have legal representation while they are detained. Military Court Watch reports that 73% of children detained said that they were simply not aware of their right to remain silent. What is also damning is that in 30% of cases, the prosecuted child was made to sign their plea in Hebrew.
Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
Order. I am afraid we have already reached 10.30 am. We have to start the wind-up speeches; otherwise everyone will be squeezed out and it may not be possible for the proposer of the motion to respond, which is always desirable in a debate such as this.
Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
The sheer number of people who have come to the debate and tried to speak shows the importance of this issue. I have to declare an interest, which many people are aware of, as I spent a considerable time in Gaza and Lebanon working as a surgeon. Like the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias), I experienced these things well over 20 years ago. I was working in Gaza when the Oslo agreement started, and look where we are 23 years on: absolutely nowhere. For many people living in Gaza or the west bank, things are worse. When I was out there in 2010, I was shocked by the sheer scale of settlements. Members have talked about how the context is incitement, but there is no requirement to incite the Palestinian children, because they are completely surrounded by the issue all the time. We are talking about huge towns and housing estates flowing over the hills. One only has to look at the map on the front of the briefing from the House of Commons Library to see how little territory within the west bank is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. It is by far the minority. The industrial annexation of the west bank is the underlying problem, and we have allowed the issue to go down the agenda.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No, I will not, because I am trying to leave time for a wind-up speech at the end.
We have allowed ourselves not to try to solve the problem. We are talking about how children are treated. I totally accept the point that the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) made; the Israelis must try these children in a military court—that is a requirement, otherwise they would be seen as annexing the west bank—but it is about the way that the children are treated. They are arrested by the military, held and interrogated and taken to a military court. There is no requirement for a military court to treat the children badly.
One point we have heard repeated today is about people not having access to legal representation or parents, but will the hon. Lady accept, because it is a fact, that the situation is the same in the domestic law in Israel on minors? Similarly, many of the standard operating procedures that apply in the west bank have been copied over from the domestic law in Israel. Also, in terms of Gaza, when the Israelis left we ended up with a police force that was throwing people off buildings.
That is why I will not be taking any more interventions. If the hon. Gentleman compared the domestic civilian law in Israel and the situation in the military courts, he would find that they are nothing like each other. We have the reports from the delegation in 2011, the report in 2012, UNICEF’s report in 2013 and the update in 2015, and things have not changed. She is sadly no longer in her place, but the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) talked about this. If we simply imagine a 12-year-old or a 14-year-old that we know going through this situation, whether they are in our family or are around us, what do we think it will produce? They are shaken awake to find two men with military weapons and they are dragged from their bed. They are blindfolded or hooded and their hands are tied behind their back. They are thrown on the floor of a military vehicle and driven for a couple of hours. They are then left with no food or drink and often no access to the toilet, and eventually their interrogation starts.
There is no audiovisual recording or evidence to show how the children were treated, but the affidavits collected by one charity after another, including B’Tselem, which is an Israeli non-governmental organisation, show that these children are being abused, threatened and frightened on an industrial scale, with more than two thirds of them being made to sign a confession in a language they do not understand. None of them reported having a parent with them. Only 97% reported not having a lawyer, so a whole 3% got access to a lawyer. The vast majority will meet their lawyer at the time of their first hearing. That leads to a high rate—it is in the nineties—of plea bargaining. They are told, “You have been held for three months. You will be held longer if you decide to contest this. Actually, that thing you signed is a confession.” They then end up in prison, miles away in Israel, with their parents unable to visit them for more than 45 minutes a month. Those parents have to get permission, which nowadays they are unlikely to get.
We have children who may be held for 18 months, without seeing a parent or family member, for throwing stones. What does Israel think that that produces? The child will have post-traumatic stress disorder. They will have missed schooling and will be suffering from all sorts of psychological problems, as highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). They will probably fail at school. They will not have work; work is hard enough to find in the west bank at the best of times. What we will have created is an angry young person who is ripe to be recruited to be violent and who hates Israel. That is not the solution to get peace.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No, I will not. I need to conclude shortly. We need to get Israel back to the table and we need to get a peace process going. We need to realise what is happening in the west bank. It is simply being built over, and things boil over. If these children have committed crimes, they must be arrested and tried. The evidence must be brought, but it behoves Israel, even though it is through a military system, to ensure that it meets the terms of the UN convention on the rights of the child, which it signed in 1991, with the presentation of high-quality evidence taken from children who have been well-treated. At the moment we have the terrorisation and intimidation of children, confessions that cannot be trusted and children who will turn into the violent terrorists of the future. That is not in the interests of Israel or Israelis. It is not in the interests of Palestinians. We need to use our power not just to tut and to click our tongue, as was discussed last night in relation to what has happened in Saudi Arabia. The UK should stand up aggressively for human rights and not be a pushover.
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Chope. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing the debate and on her excellent opening speech. Since she has been a Member of this House, she has been a constant and tireless campaigner for children, no matter where they live. This debate has been well-attended and well-informed, and has reflected the strong opinions across the House. Many Members have visited the region and speak with experience. We have also benefited from the professional expertise of certain Members, with their backgrounds in psychology, mental health and medicine, and also as a professional soldier.
Before turning to the specific issue of children, I should, as others have, comment on the wider context of today’s debate and reiterate the Labour party’s commitment to support a negotiated two-state solution for the two peoples of Israel and Palestine. As has already been said, the situation in Israel and the west bank is bleak. There are no peace talks, and there is no immediate prospect of peace talks. We appear to be as far from a resolution to the conflict as at any point in the past 20 years, while the continued settlement building makes the prospect of a two-state solution even less likely.
Tensions are escalating on both sides, and sadly we have seen a number of terrorist attacks against both Palestinians and Israelis in recent weeks and months. As with any conflict, it is children who often suffer most. The international community has a particular obligation to children, as laid out in the UN convention on the rights of the child. Israel, as a signatory to that convention, is expected to uphold those rights. Furthermore, as an occupying power, Israel has obligations under the Geneva convention towards Palestinian child prisoners.
As we have heard today, there are numerous and highly concerning reports that the detention of children, some of whom are very young, breaches those obligations. That should concern us all not only because it amounts to abuse, but because we want a better future for Israel and Palestine, and today’s children are central to that hope. What we should be working towards and what the international community should be promoting is co-operation and dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli children, to enable a shared and peaceful future.
I could not agree more on trying to bring groups together. On a recent visit to Israel—I declare an interest—we met the MEET group, which brings Palestinian and Jewish children together. It is a fantastic organisation. However, the hon. Lady knows I was a schoolteacher. Would I have delivered the following to any of my lessons? This is from a grade 8 Palestinian textbook:
“Today’s Muslim countries need urgently Jihad and Jihad fighters in order to liberate the robbed land and to get rid of the robbing Jews”.
That is the context of a lot of the violence. Yes, we must hold Israel to account, but we must also hold the Palestinians to account for the abuse of children through the school system.
I want to come on to deal with the point that the hon. Gentleman has just made. I think that every Member—[Interruption.]
Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
Order. Up until now we have had mutual respect, and I think that should continue.
I think that every Member of this House would agree that the involvement of children in conflict is absolutely wrong. Before I go on to deal with some of the specific issues around the Israeli response to Palestinian child prisoners, I want to refer to the 2005 assertion from Amnesty International:
“Palestinian armed groups have repeatedly shown total disregard for the most fundamental human rights, notably the right to life, by deliberately targeting Israeli civilians and by using Palestinian children in armed attacks. Children are susceptible to recruitment by manipulation or may be driven to join armed groups for a variety of reasons, including a desire to avenge relatives or friends killed by the Israeli army.”
Moving on to the issue before us today—the treatment of child prisoners—in 2012 the Government convened a group of eminent lawyers with expertise in human rights and child welfare to investigate what was going on. I commend the Government for doing that and I commend all the lawyers involved, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Baroness Scotland. The report concluded that Israel’s treatment of Palestinian child prisoners amounted to a series of breaches of the rights of the child, including article 2 on discrimination and article 3 on the child’s best interests. More concerning still, the lawyers encountered significant evidence that Israel may be in breach of the general prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The following year, in March 2013, UNICEF released a report, “Children in Israeli Military Detention”, which prompted the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to express,
“its deepest concern about the reported practice of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children arrested, prosecuted and detained by the military and the police, and about the State party’s failure to end these practices in spite of repeated concerns expressed by treaty bodies, special procedures mandate holders and United Nations agencies”.
UNICEF made 38 recommendations to improve the treatment of child detainees. Many of these overlapped with the 40 recommendations from the UK legal delegation, which covered the five clear areas of arrest, interrogation, bail hearings, sentencing and the investigation of complaints. Those were all important recommendations. In response, there have been a few welcome military orders issued by the IDF, including military order 1711, which reduces the time a Palestinian child can be detained prior to appearing before a military court judge, and military order 1745, which requires interrogations to be conducted in a language the child can understand, and to be recorded. However, this order does not apply if a child is suspected of committing a security offence such as throwing stones, and that is of concern.
A 2014 UNICEF working group on grave violations against children gathered 208 statements from detained children and found that, among other things, 171 reported being subject to physical violence and 144 reported being subject to verbal abuse. Of the 38 recommendations made by UNICEF in March 2013, only five were deemed to have been addressed by March 2015, although 15 were partially addressed and 14 were under discussion. It is important to note that Israel has rejected only one recommendation outright. The British Government need to do much more to hold the Israeli Government to account in terms of what they are doing to meet the recommendations that have been made.
In a recent answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), it looked as though there was little tangible progress in implementing the recommendations that have been set out. Nor can I say there is much evidence that the Government are prioritising the issue. Although I welcome the efforts of our ambassador in Tel Aviv to raise the issue, I think Ministers can do far more. In conclusion—
Before she concludes, will the hon. Lady give way?
No; I need to complete my speech.
In conclusion, I hope the Minister will make it unambiguously clear today that the UK Government stand behind all 40 of the UK recommendations and will explain to the House how he intends to encourage Israel to do far more to implement the recommendations as soon as possible.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood)
It is a pleasure to see you chairing this important debate, Mr Chope. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on securing what is a well-attended debate. I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady: it is an important debate. I am sorry it is taking place here—no disrespect, Mr Chope—but such matters should be debated in the main Chamber and given more time. I am very sorry that colleagues were not able to get in; I will do my best to write to them. I apologise for not being able to answer everybody’s questions in the short time that I have. I want to allow time for the hon. Member for Rotherham to reply at the end. Forgive me again: I do not intend to take any interventions.
I want to pick up on a couple of points made by hon. Members before I respond to the points made by the hon. Member for Rotherham. First, my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) made the important point that we should not forget that Israel is a democracy in a very difficult neck of the woods. We encourage and support Israel to continue to support the democratic process. We are a friend of Israel and we work with the United States to ensure it maintains high standards and the rule of law. That is very important indeed. It is very easy when a country is under pressure, as we have found ourselves—Guantanamo Bay is an example—to allow standards to slip. So it is important that we are constructively critical but supportive of Israel in the challenges that it faces.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)—regrettably, she is not in her place—mentioned that the EU-Israel association agreement should be suspended if Israel does not live up to its human rights obligations. The agreement could be suspended, but it provides the framework for human rights and other issues to be debated. It provides an important forum for such things to be discussed, so we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we suspended it.
I have a huge respect for the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and how he keeps pressure on the Government in a variety of areas, including human rights. However, he is being a little disingenuous in saying that human rights is not a priority for the Government. Whatever has been said, I can assure him and all those here today that in all the countries in my portfolio—other Ministers would say the same—human rights, the rule of law, democracy, governance and freedom of speech are important matters. Where appropriate and in whichever country I visit, including Israel, where I will be going shortly, I will raise those issues.
I will not give way, but I would be delighted to have a cup of tea with the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issues in more detail.
The hon. Member for Rotherham made an important speech that was accurate in many respects. I welcome the initiatives and the thinking about how we can resolve matters. If she will allow me, I will give consideration to the five points that she raised and I will write to her. Again, I will be more than happy to sit down with her and discuss the issues as we take stock. A lot of the issues have legal parameters, as she will know.
The Government share Members’ concerns about the treatment of children, including Palestinian children, who are detained in Israel. Israel has a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that international standards are upheld. It is especially abhorrent to see child detainees suffering inhumane treatment, whether it is in Israel, the occupied territories, or anywhere else in the world. We are pleased that the Israeli Government have made progress on improvements, but we are pushing for further implementation of the required reforms.
Members from across the House have said that we need to put what we see in context. Co-operation is needed between the Palestinian authorities and Israel to deal with child prisoners. There is also the fundamental absence of a two-state solution, which is the cause of this problem. Members have mentioned the appalling use of children to commit acts of violence. The level of incitement is worrying, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) pointed out, but that should not prevent us from encouraging Israel, working with it and being critical of it on those points, as allies and friends are able to do.
As the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) said, it has been a long time since Oslo, Madrid, Camp David, the Wye crossing opening and so forth. It is very frustrating indeed. I agree that we seem further from a solution at the moment. We need leadership. It is very sad that individual Palestinians, who are not prompted by an intifada but have no faith in their own leadership, are going out, killing Israelis and causing mayhem on the streets of Israel in the knowledge that they will be killed. They are not scared to die. We are in a very dangerous place, which is why we call on all sides to come together and look forward to resolve these matters.
This debate is not about the middle east peace process, much as we can wander into it, nor about the occupied territories, although I agree that those issues are related to what we are discussing, so I will focus my remarks on the specific points that have been made. As has been said, in 2012 the UK funded an independent report entitled “Children in Military Custody” by leading British lawyers. Since then, Ministers and the British ambassador in Tel Aviv have spoken and written to the Israeli Justice Minister, Attorney General and military advocate general to urge Israel to take action based on the report’s findings. In February 2013, UNICEF published a report entitled “Children in Israeli Military Detention” and a progress report later that year. Those reports and lobbying by the international community have had an impact. We will continue to make this issue a focus of our engagement with Israel, and we plan to fund a follow-up visit by the delegation in February 2016 to report on further progress.
The UNICEF progress report of October 2013 noted that Israel has taken important positive steps towards addressing the recommendations in the 2012 report by updating its existing standard operating procedures and policies on the arrest of minors. Those updates include changing the policy on methods of restraint and limiting the use of blindfolds to only when there is a security need. Israel has also increased the age of majority for Palestinian children. The Israeli military committed to conducting a pilot of using written summons, instead of night-time arrests, which has now been concluded.
We welcome the steps that have been taken to date, but we continue to call for further measures, including the mandatory use of audio-visual recording of interrogations, an investigation into continued reports of the use of single-hand ties and an end to solitary confinement for children. We also challenge Israel’s classification of diverse incidents—for example, stone throwing and participating in illegal demonstrations—as national, as opposed to criminal, offences. We also said that minors should consistently have access to lawyers before interrogation, and that they should have the right to have their parents present during their detention or interrogation.
We remain concerned about Israel’s extensive use of administrative detention, which, according to international law, should be used only when security makes it absolutely necessary, rather than as a routine practice. Administrative detention should also be used only as a preventive measure and not as a punitive one. We continue to call on Israeli authorities to comply with their obligations under international law and either charge or release detainees. We regularly raise that matter and other broader concerns about the treatment of Palestinian detainees of all ages with the Israeli authorities. We have done so at Foreign Minister, Attorney General and National Security Adviser levels.
Members also mentioned the recent violence in the west bank. We very much condemn what is going on there at the moment, and we remain extremely concerned about the terrorist incidents that have resulted in a number of deaths and multiple innocent civilians wounded. We are also concerned about the use of force by Israeli security personnel in response to protests and security incidents. The Foreign Secretary and I have publicly called on both sides to restore calm and improve the situation on the ground.
I am conscious of time, so let me conclude. This is obviously an emotive issue. That much is clear from Members’ valuable contributions. I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham for enabling this debate to take place. I welcome the positive steps Israel has made in implementing some of the recommendations of the “Children in Military Custody” report, but the Government remain concerned about the treatment of Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons. The UK has made repeated representations to Israel about the treatment of child detainees, and I assure Members that this issue will remain a focus for us. We are committed to this matter, and I will raise it when I visit Israel next month. We will remain engaged on it.
I welcome the Minister’s comments. The point of this debate is that we want children to be treated in a fair, just and legal manner, regardless of their race or the crime they committed. We want to ensure that international law is observed.
Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
My hon. Friend will be aware that, as the US State Department noted, the Israeli military courts have a conviction rate of more than 99% for Palestinians. Does she share my concern that it is influenced by coercive interrogation and the lack of an Arabic translation of documents in interrogation?
I completely agree. Hon. Friends have made that point very well already.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)
The Minister, in reply to my hon. Friend, said that he wanted to reflect on the five points that she made. He also said that a follow-up delegation will go out in February. May I ask the Minister, through my hon. Friend, to indicate whether he thinks that there should be a full debate in the main Chamber on this issue after that? Clearly, there is a great deal of interest in this issue and a lot of people want to make points.
When I have my meeting with the Minister, I will push that very point.
Palestinian children have been subjected to such treatment for decades. Generation after generation grow up having experienced violence and trauma, and they harbour feelings of resentment, persistent anger, hatred and mistrust as a result. Does my hon. Friend agree that, unless those gross and offensive violations cease, the prospects for peace will continue to diminish?
Sadly, I agree. Everybody in this Chamber and in the country wants lasting peace. We should all be driving for a two-state solution.
I am delighted that the Minister has agreed to meet with me. I want to discuss with him how the UK can meet its legal and humanitarian obligations. I thank the Minister and Members in this Chamber for participating in this debate.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered child prisoners and detainees in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.