It’s time the international community stood up for Palestinian children

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 4/12/2017

Palestinian children can be seen doing their homework in their makeshift home in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Gaza [Ezz Zanoun/Apaimages]

 

Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinian children is not a new development but rather one example of its many breaches of international law and international humanitarian law. While it has in the past faced criticisms for its maltreatment of Palestinian children, particularly in relation to minors that are taken into custody and brought before its military courts, this has not been matched with solid action.

It is therefore encouraging that this may be about to change, and in the United States of all places. The Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act requires the Secretary of State to certify annually that funds obligated or expended in the previous year by the United States for assistance to Israel “do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children, and for other purposes”. The legislation leaves financial assistance already committed to Israel in place.

The bill notes that Israel ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 3 October 1991, which states— (A) in article 37(a), that “no child shall be subject to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. It states that “In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, there are two separate legal systems, with Israeli military law imposed on Palestinians and Israeli civilian law applied to Israeli settlers”.

It further notes that the Israeli military detains around 500 to 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 each year and prosecutes them before a military court system which the bill says “lacks basic and fundamental guarantees of due process in violation of international standards”.

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP) notes that “Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes an estimated 500 to 700 children each year in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections”.  It further states that in 590 cases documented by DCIP between 2012 and 2016, 72 per cent of Palestinian child detainees reported physical violence and 66 per cent faced verbal abuse and humiliation.

According to Khaled Quzmar, General Director of DCIP, “despite ongoing engagement with UN bodies and repeated calls to abide by international law, Israeli military and police continue night arrests, physical violence, coercion, and threats against Palestinian children”.

The recent introduction of the bill in the US Congress aims to prevent US tax dollars from paying for human rights violations against Palestinian children during the course of Israeli military detention. It aims to establish, as a minimum safeguard, a US demand for basic due process rights for and an absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children arrested and prosecuted within the Israeli military court system.

In 2012 the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office commissioned a report by nine lawyers on the issue of Palestinian children. Among its conclusions it found that “Israel is in breach of articles 2 (discrimination), 3 (child’s best interests), 37(b) (premature resort to detention), (c) (non-separation from adults) and (d) (prompt access to lawyers) and 40 (use of shackles) 111 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”. It further concluded that based on its findings “Israel will also be in breach of the prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in article 37(a) of the Convention. Transportation of child prisoners into Israel is in breach of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Failure to translate Military Order 1676 from Hebrew is a violation of article 65 of the Fourth Geneva Convention”.

The report made four core recommendations and 40 specific recommendations. The sheer volume of the recommendations highlights the extent of the breaches that need to be addressed by the Israeli authorities. Rather than work to address the recommendations of the report in 2016, Israel refused to cooperate with a team making a follow-up visit to review the extent to which the recommendations had been addressed. This led to the cancelation of the visit and the British FCO failed to convince the Israelis to reinstate it.

Responding to a question from the Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, then Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said: “I expressed my strong disappointment at Israel’s unwillingness to host this follow-up visit with Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely during my visit to Israel on 18 February. Officials from the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, including the ambassador, also lobbied the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs to cooperate with the visit, and will continue to follow up. We remain committed to working with Israel to secure improvements to the practices surrounding children in detention in Israel.”

The UK parliament has recently been considering the issue of Palestinian children and their treatment by Israel. This was initially expressed through a parliamentary instrument called the Early Day Motion (EDM). EDM 563 was issued on 20 November and states that “this House notes with concern that hundreds of Palestinian children continue to be arrested, detained and tried in Israeli military courts, despite the practice involving widespread and systematic violations of international law and being widely condemned”.

The motion “notes the disparity between the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian children by Israeli authorities and calls for those authorities to treat Palestinian children in a way that is not inferior to the way they would any Israeli child”.

EDM 563 notes with concern “that the recommendations of Unicef’s 2013 Children in Israeli Military Detention Report remain largely unmet and calls on the government to urgently engage with the Israeli government to end the widespread and systemic human rights violations suffered by Palestinian children in Israeli military custody”.

At the time of writing 65 members of parliament had signed the motion (out of 650). This includes support from individual MPs from all political parties in England Scotland and Wales.

The recent moves in Congress and the UK parliament to highlight Israel’s abuse of the rights of Palestinian children have been welcomed by Palestinians and their supporters. It has taken decades for the rights of children to gain any real attention. If the bill in the US passes then it would signal a real change in policy in that it will condition some funding to Israel on respect for human rights and specifically for Palestinian children. If it fails then the message to Palestinian children will be that America is willing for the bar to be set lower for them than for Israeli children. A well supported EDM in the UK Parliament will highlight the issue and that will allow its sponsors to seek real action from government to pressure Israel to change its unacceptable treatment of Palestinian children, both morally and legally.

It is time Palestinian children were finally protected from abuse by their occupiers. Israel is comfortable in its abuse and will only change when the international community acts to help them. As for Israel, a state without a moral compass, when it comes to Palestinians it could at least apply the same law and practices of dealing with Palestinian children as it does its own children.

 

Press release from Britain-Palestine APPG

This press release follows the UK Government’s announcement that it would ban local authorities and other publicly financed bodies from boycotts, including those of illegal Israeli settlement goods.

22/2/2016

Richard Burden MP blasts Ministers for ducking Parliamentary Scrutiny of “Anti –Boycott rules”

Richard Burden MP, Chair of Britain-Palestine All-Party Group has today accused Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock of trying to duck Parliamentary Scrutiny for new restrictions on public sector procurement and ethical investment decisions, stating last week’s announcement should have been made to MPs, rather than on a visit in Israel.

Mr Burden said today:

This all started last October at the Conservative Party Conference, when Matt Hancock issued a press release outlining the Government’s intention “to stop politically-motivated boycott and divestment campaigns by town halls against UK defence companies and against Israel.”

Most of the examples given by Ministers at the time of what they had in their sights however, were not  boycotts of Israel as a nation but rather responses to illegal actions by Israel in the Occupied territories –  for example settlement building in the West Bank. This even seemed to fly in the case of the Foreign Office’s own advice to business which warns of the risks associated with trade relationships with Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The Foreign Office and Department for International Development seemed to be facing one way while the Cabinet office seemed to be heading off in the opposite direction.

Ever since then I have been trying to find out what is going on. I have tabled several written questions about prospects for parliamentary scrutiny on both issues, and information was not forthcoming – until Matt Hancock announced his intentions on procurement guidance in Israel earlier this week.

 It is still not clear what the Minister’s announcement in Israel actually means. One message coming out of the Government is that it simply repeats existing rules regarding discrimination on the grounds of nationality against other WTO members. However, if that is the limit of what the Government is intending, why have they made such a song and dance about it on the international stage?

 And if that is all that Ministers are saying, how do they square that with their attacks on decisions by councils or others which seek not to boycott Israel but to sever connections with illegal settlements in the West Bank and other breaches of the 4th Geneva Convention? There is nothing about those kinds of decisions by councils that breaches WTO rules.

 So, it is vital that Ministers urgently clarify its intentions when Parliament returns on Monday. That is why it is particularly worrying that last week’s announcement was made in Israel rather than in the House of Commons either before or after the current recess.

 The danger is, of course, that with so much uncertainty surrounding the actual meaning of what the Government is doing – both in respect of pension funds and procurement policies – Councils and other public sector institutions could be deterred from taking ethical investment and procurement decisions in general. That could certainly include decisions in response to Israel’s actions in the occupied territories but it could go a lot further.

 A wide range of individuals and organisations have expressed concern about these proposals – including those campaigning for Council and pension fund divestment from fossil fuel and tobacco, and those working to promote fair trade principles. Would the kind of thing Ministers are suggesting today have ruled out Councils from divesting from companies involved in South Africa during the Apartheid era? Who knows?

 Ethical investment decisions are often seen as good business practice in the private sector. For local councils, it can be particularly important to community cohesion for procurement and investment decisions to contain ethical dimensions.

 Ministers have a duty to explain to Parliament why their new rules mean, and to come clean about why they are doing this.

————-ENDS ————–

NOTES

  1. “Government to stop ‘divisive’ town hall boycotts & sanctions” | Conservative Party Press Release, October 2015: https://www.scribd.com/doc/290041998/Government-to-stop-divisive-town-hall-boycotts-sanctions.
  2. These proposals contradict current Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice, “Overseas Business Risk — the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, 14/7/2015, which states: “Settlements are illegal under international law . . . There are therefore clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity.” See here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/overseas-business-risk-palestinian-territories/overseas-business-risk-the-occupied-palestinian-territories
  1. The International Development Secretary reinforced the position of following Foreign Office advice following a question during oral questions on 16 December 2015: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm151216/debtext/151216-0001.htm#151216-0001.htm_spnew5:

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Surely the Secretary of State will be aware of the guidance on the Foreign Office website, which warns UK companies thinking of investing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the “legal and economic risks” if they engage in “financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements and other economic activities in Israeli settlements or benefitting Israeli settlements” because of the illegal nature of those settlements and their being an obstacle to peace.

Does the right hon. Lady therefore agree that it is perfectly reasonable for both public and private institutions to pay due regard to that advice when they make their own investment and procurement decisions.

Justine Greening: They should do that; that is good Foreign Office advice. We have been very clear that we deplore illegal settlements, because they take us further away from a two-state solution and peace in that part of the world, when we need to be taking what could be final steps and final chances to reach a two-state solution.

  1. Richard Burden MP received the following answers to written PQs recently:
  2. On pension changes: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-01-27/24476/
  3. On procurement changes: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-01-27/24475/
  4. During Business Questions on 28 January, Shadow Leader of the House, Chris Bryant MP, also raised the importance of parliamentary scrutiny on the issue, to which Leader of the House, Chris Grayling did not acknowledge in his response.

CB: “… concerns the Government saying they want to stop councils making ethical pensions and procurement decisions. They want to amend the Local Government Pension Scheme (Management and Investment of Funds Regulations) 2009 and publish a revised Cabinet Office procurement policy note. I believe that this constitutes a major curtailment of local authorities’ power to act. Can the Leader of the House guarantee that the changes will be subjected to proper scrutiny? That means a debate and vote on the Floor of the House on any changes in the pensions regulations, and a separate debate and vote on the procurement policy note.” See full Hansard transcript here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm160128/debtext/160128-0002.htm#160128-0002.htm_spnew33

  1. “Putting a stop to public procurement boycotts” | Cabinet Office Press Release 17 February 2016; https://www.gov.uk/government/news/putting-a-stop-to-public-procurement-boycotts

RAF jets launch attacks within hours of Parliament’s vote for air strikes on Syria

  
It was no surprise to anyone that RAF jets left Cyprus within hours of Parliament voting at solow air strikes on Syria. 

I had made the case in my recent article in the Middle East Monitor for a more comprehensive strategy both for eradicating IS and bringing peace to Syria because I was not convinced by the British Prime Minister’s case. 

I thought the great veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman captured the PM’s plan very succinctly as can be seen below.

  

There will undoubtedly be Syrian civilian casualties despite assurances by the Government that what the RAF will bring are precision weapons that can almost distinguish between an IS person and a Syrian civilian. 

I simply do not believe this.

I also do not believe the claim that there are tens of thousands of ‘moderate’ Syrian opposition fighters  just waiting for Britain’s signal to take swathes of land vacated by beleaguered IS fighters running away from Britush bombs.

The fact is that most, if not all, MPs gave never experienced being on the receiving end of a bombing campaign, day after day. 

The Syrian people have, the Iraqis have and before them, the Palestinians in Gaza have over many years of Israrli bombing raids.

Thousands have been killed, tens of thousands have been injured and hundreds of thousands of homes have been demolished. Children have been traumatised got life and have lost out in education and a normal life.

I found it interesting to read today that the first target of British bombs in Suria was an oil field that supplies almost 10% of the oil revenues for IS/Daesh.

I tweeted this

  
It is only day one of the U.K.’ ‘Extension’ of raids from Iraqyo Syria but I doubt if the  IS leadership watched the debate in Parliament last night and when the vote was announced packed their bags and dispersed.

I want to see IS destroyed and its ideology consigned to the dustbin of history but there is a better way to achieve this than simply dropping ‘smart’ bombs on Riqqa. 

I hope and pray the UK will be safer as a result of last night’s decision.

Alan Duncan MP tackles illegal Israeli settlements and their supporters

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Following the UK Parliament overwhelming vote to recognise Palestine as a state, Sir Alan Duncan MP makes an astonishing speech to the Royal United Services Institute entitled: ‘Middle East Peace- The Principles behind the Process’.

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He says defenders of illegal settlements should be viewed as extremists.

The speech can be viewed here

Here is an example of the ‘settlers’, better described as armed robbers, attacking an elderly Palestinian man for ploughing his field under the protection of the IDF.

The reaction of the pro Israel groups in the UK was perhaps predictable. Here in the Independent’s report.

Sir Alan Duncan’s ‘apartheid’ attack on Israel angers Jewish groups

You really do wonder when groups representing the Jewish community in the UK will see that supporting Israel unconditionally is misguided and counterproductive to peace efforts. I guess that Alan Duncan’s speech would put those of them who support illegal settlements in the ‘extremist’ camp and he is right. That worries them but does not seem to help them wake up and realise supporting illegality is not in the Jewish Community’s interest.

Much support from former British Diplomats for recognition of Palestine

On the 13th of October, UK MPs will debate and vote on a motion to recognise Palestine. The outcome is non binding on the Government, but a strong yes vote would not only put pressure for UK recognition, but can be helpful to the Government to move on this if it so chooses. After all, this is democracy, isn’t it? Or is it the power of lobbies that determines a sovereign state’s decision to recognise another state.

A number of ex British diplomats have made the case for recognition before the end if the negotiations. Here are the links.

Opinion piece in the Guardian: Former British Consul General to Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean: The time is right for Britain to recognise the Palestinian state

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Letter in the Independent by a number of former diplomats: MPs’ historic chance to help Middle East peace

With Sweden leading the way with its new Government promising to recognise Palestine, the home of the Balfour Declaration, the UK Parliament, can send a strong signal to the Government from all sides of the house to recognise Palestine. A defeat for the motion or the addition if the wrecking amendment would put Britain on the slow lane of truly supporting an end to the illegal military occupation of Palestine.