Detention of Palestinian Children (West Bank)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:32 am on 7th December 2010.

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Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington 11:32 am, 7th December 2010

I will come on to that in a moment, but I want to press on with what happens to the children before doing so. I am not mounting a defence of what they have done, but explaining what happens. I am certainly not defending violence or criminal acts. I am simply explaining, as the father of a teenage child, what happens, which is unacceptable and in clear breach of international obligations.

On arrival at the detention or interrogation centre, the child is either placed in a cell or taken straight for interrogation. Common interrogation practices include slapping and kicking, verbal abuse of and shouting at children, who are often threatened into confessing. Threats are made against the child's family, including the threat of having their homes demolished or having travel documents withdrawn, which means that the family will no longer be able to work. In most cases the children confess to the allegations put to them within the first couple of hours. It is not uncommon for children to be given a confession written in Hebrew, on which their signatures are put. Hon. Members should remember that, often, these children do not understand Hebrew. Another disturbing aspect of these detentions and arrests is that the children are not visited by their families; they are not allowed visits. As has been mentioned, all bar one of the centres where the Palestinian children from the west bank are taken are inside Israel.

Israel, by wilfully depriving a protected person of their right to a fair and regular trial, is in grave breach of the fourth Geneva convention. I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the legal duty, which my hon. Friend Richard Burden mentioned, on all 194 high contracting parties to that convention, including the United Kingdom, to provide effective penal sanction for persons committing or ordering the commissioning of such grave breaches, and to search for and prosecute those responsible. Minister, children as young as 12 are regularly denied access to a lawyer and visits from their families.

In 2008, bail was denied in 91% of all cases involving Palestinian children. I saw evidence of that with my own eyes at first hand, having seen children who had been detained for three months without access to, or contact with, their parents or families.

The hon. Member for Aberconwy asked why there were no documented cases of complaints of torture. I asked the same question. Between 2001 and 2008, over 600 complaints were filed against Israeli Security Agency interrogators for alleged ill-treatment and torture. To date, there has not been a single criminal investigation-not one. There cannot be any prosecutions, because the Israeli authorities do not investigate complaints.

Palestinian children, including girls, have been held under administrative detention, which is detention without charge or trial, granted by administrative order rather than by judicial decree. There is also a broader denial of freedom. To put all the issues relating to detention in the context of the broader picture, Palestinian children have been denied freedom, live under military occupation and face inordinate obstacles. For example, they have to negotiate checkpoints just to get to school, to visit medical facilities and even to get to their homes.

A whole generation of Palestinian children are being denied their childhood, and not just on the west bank. I read an article in The Guardian recently about the Prime Minister having highlighted issues in Gaza, which he described as a "prison camp". When will the Foreign Secretary call the Israel ambassador in and say that these persistent and systemic violations of international law are unacceptable and will have consequences for our relations? The Israeli Government have demanded that we change perfectly proper British legislation about the prosecution of war criminals, yet they continue to commit war crimes.

The Israelis pretend that they are adhering to their obligations under international conventions, and we in the west pretend that we believe they are adhering to these conventions. Now it is time for action to bring about justice and to relieve the suffering of Palestinian children and the Palestinian people in both Gaza and the west bank.