I very much welcome the opportunity to have this debate today, especially as it is taking place just two weeks after members of the all-party group on Palestine visited the west bank, under the auspices of the Council for Arab-British Understanding. I would like to put on record my thanks for CAABU's support during our trip, and for the work that it does in promoting better understanding between the middle east and Britain.
During our visit, we had meetings with various politicians and officials, including the Palestinian Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs and others. However, our main concern was to see for ourselves the conditions faced by Palestinians in the west bank. In meeting that aim, we were assisted by various non-governmental organisations, which also deserve our gratitude. We toured the area of E1 and visited Silwan, where homes are under severe threat of demolition and where a large area has been redesignated as a protected area. We also toured the northern west bank, including Nablus and the Balata refugee camp.
We saw one household that has effectively been excluded from its community because it is sandwiched between the so-called security wall and a settlement. The owner of the house has been given a key to a small metal gate in the fence, but he still cannot easily access his land, which used to take him only a few minutes to reach. We met another family on the edge of a small village whose home had been attacked more than 90 times by nearby settlers, leading to one death and the destruction of their herd of goats, and therefore of their livelihood. We visited a Bedouin herding community who are constantly being harassed, including by having their shacks destroyed, and who have tremendous difficulty accessing basic services such as health and education. They do not have access to water because they are so hemmed in, and consequently they need to buy it, although they cannot easily afford it.
I could go on. However, it was a visit to a military court, where we saw the court process involving Palestinian children, that shocked us to the core, so we decided to highlight the issue on our return. That is why I applied for this debate, and why I shall concentrate mainly on that issue during it. However, I am not losing sight of the fact that it is not only a serious issue in its own right but illustrative of some of the wider issues in play in the occupied territories involving settlements, prolonged military occupation and de facto annexation of land. The military court system plays a component part in those wider issues, and I am sure that colleagues will wish to refer to some of those other issues if they manage to catch your eye, Mr Howarth.
According to article 37(b) of the UN convention on the rights of the child,
"The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child...shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time".
Since 2000, around 6,500 Palestinian children have been detained in Israeli jails. In total, 32% of confessions made by children are taken in Hebrew, a language that is not spoken by most Palestinians.