Occupied Palestinian Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:28 pm on 29th April 2004.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Special Envoy to PM on Human Rights in Iraq 3:28 pm, 29th April 2004

I thank my hon. Friend because that is precisely the point I was coming to. I want to raise the case of Mr. Marwan Barghouti, who is the most important Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union committee on the human rights of parliamentarians has been dealing with Mr. Barghouti's case for some time. As hon. Members will know, the IPU custom is that if it wishes to raise the case of a parliamentarian who is in jail or has problems in their country, it asks for a mission to be allowed to go to the country in question. The IPU asked that a delegation be allowed to meet Mr. Barghouti, taking up an invitation extended by the Speaker of the Israeli Parliament in a letter of 9 July 2003 to observe the trial proceedings. The IPU decided at its 173rd session to send an observer to see Mr. Barghouti's trial. That was not allowed, however, so the IPU committee on the human rights of parliamentarians decided instead to send a legal expert to Israel to gather on the spot as much detailed information as possible on Mr. Barghouti's trial.

Mr. Simon Foreman, a lawyer in a Paris firm, travelled to Israel at the beginning of December and was able to meet the case prosecutor, Mr. Barghouti's defence team and other parties. He provided the IPU committee with his report, which is annexed to the resolution that we passed last Friday at our convention in Mexico. It was decided to do that in advance of Israel's observations on the report being made, because the next opportunity to publish it would have been in September, which in our view would be too late.

Mr. Barghouti was arrested in April 2002. He is an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, which is the Parliament of the Palestinian Authority, established following the two Oslo accords. Since January 1996, he had represented the constituency of Ramallah. He was elected for Fatah, the political movement of which he is the general secretary in the west bank and to which the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, also belongs. Analysts regard him as a moderate on account of his support for the Oslo accords, an opinion that was expressed by the former head of the Israeli intelligence services in Ha'aretz in September 2003.

Mr. Barghouti was forced to go underground in 2001. On 4 August of that year, he narrowly escaped an Israeli army missile strike on two vehicles leaving Fatah headquarters. He was in one of them, but the Israeli Government stated that another person was the target, even though Mr. Barghouti, according to the Deputy Internal Security Minister,

"amply deserves to die . . . for he is very much to blame for the attacks against Israel."

Our Chairman referred to the article by Mr. Barghouti published in the New York Times and in the International Herald Tribune, which attracted a lot of attention. It was entitled, "Want security, end occupation". After very violent suicide attacks during the Easter holidays in March 2002, the Israeli army called up the reserve and launched Operation Defensive Shield, under cover of which it penetrated deeply into the occupied territories of the west bank. In that context, the Israeli army resumed control of Ramallah, which it had evacuated six years earlier under the Oslo process. It succeeded in locating and capturing Marwan Barghouti.

When Mr. Barghouti was arrested on 15 April 2002, he was taken by military forces from Ramallah, in west bank territory, to Jerusalem, and jailed in the Russian compound prison. He remained in solitary confinement for a month, except for two visits by his lawyer—one on 18 April, when they were able to communicate freely, and the other on 7 May, under the supervision of the security services.

During that month of isolation, Mr. Barghouti was interrogated by the security services. On 21 and 22 May, he had long working sessions with his lawyers, and described to them his conditions of interrogation: physical pressures in the form of sleep deprivation and uninterrupted interrogations and recourse to what is known as the shabeh method, which consists of attaching the person interrogated to a chair and forcing him to sit for several hours in a painful position—in this case, protruding nails in the back of the chair aggravated the discomfort by preventing him from leaning back. Mr. Barghouti also said that the interrogators made death threats against him and his son.

The defence has argued throughout that the Tel Aviv district court could not try Mr. Barghouti for a great many reasons, deriving essentially from international law. They included the facts that, first, the Oslo accords transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction the authority to try Palestinians, including with respect to attacks carried out against Israelis, and the accords have been embodied in Israeli law; secondly, Mr. Barghouti should enjoy prisoner of war status, pursuant to the third Geneva convention; thirdly, the arrest of Mr. Barghouti was unlawful, because he was abducted from his home in Ramallah, a Palestinian area, by the Israeli armed forces; and, fourthly, the transfer of Mr. Barghouti from Ramallah, a territory under Palestinian sovereignty and occupied by the Israeli army, to Israeli territory to be tried in Tel Aviv was in breach of the fourth Geneva convention. Lastly, the defence argued, the arrest and trial of Mr. Barghouti violated his parliamentary immunity deriving from his status as a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

I have mentioned the third and the fourth Geneva conventions, and the responsibility of the UK Government, as an upholder of those conventions, to ensure that they are upheld. There is still no news about the verdict of the Tel Aviv district court, which has reserved judgment since 29 December last year. According to the case papers, from Mr. Barghouti's arrest on 15 April 2002 to the trial, the Israeli authorities and the prosecution have tried to turn the situation into a media event and a symbol, putting on trial one of the men who epitomised the intifada and presenting him as a terrorist. Of all the Palestinian prisoners held by the Israelis, Mr. Barghouti is the most senior member of the Palestinian Authority and he is said to be close to Mr. Arafat.

The observer made one or two comments to the IPU concerning the statement by the Israeli Deputy Homeland Security Minister that Mr. Barghouti "thoroughly deserves death", the statement from the Attorney-General calling him a terrorist, the way in which Mr. Barghouti's lawyers have been prevented from meeting him, the long interrogations to which his French lawyer was subjected on her arrival at the airport in Tel Aviv and Israel's refusal to allow in an observer from the International Federation for Human Rights.

Such incidents have been facilitated by the climate that has made this trial increasingly a political rather than a judicial matter, but also by a breakdown of Israeli law, which has been placed in breach of international law by authorising prisoner transfers. As I spelled out earlier, that is clearly prohibited by the fourth Geneva convention. It also tolerates interrogation methods that should be prohibited, in addition to the laws that make it possible to keep a prisoner incommunicado for excessively long periods.

Nobody would dispute that the Israeli authorities are right to point out that their country is up against blind terrorism, which poses serious security problems that they have to address. However, our report, which the IPU governing council has distributed to 150 countries that are members of the IPU, illustrates the fact that the methods chosen to deal with terrorism have been inconsistent with the rule of law and that sight has been lost of such equally essential principles as the absolute priority that should be given, under all circumstances, to respect for the physical integrity of prisoners.

The Barghouti case has clearly demonstrated that, far from bringing security, the breaches of international law have, above all, undermined the authority of Israeli justice by casting discredit on its conduct of investigations and the procedures used. The United Kingdom Government have a responsibility to ensure that the conventions are upheld.