Detention of Palestinian Children (West Bank)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:48 am on 7th December 2010.

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Photo of Ian Lavery Ian Lavery Labour, Wansbeck 11:48 am, 7th December 2010

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The simple answer is that even if children are 100% guilty, there is no justification whatever for treating them in the way they are being tret. I have seen that with my own eyes, but I will move on.

The people we are talking about are subject to all sorts of abuse, including sleep deprivation, beatings, slappings, denial of food and water, position abuse, exposure to extreme heat and cold, and denial of access to toilets and washing facilities. Some 81% of those children-81% of the Palestinian children detained-confessed during interrogation, and 32% of those confessions were, as my hon. Friends said, written in Hebrew, so how are they supposed to understand anything? It is a disgrace, and a deliberate attempt to intimidate Palestinian children in any way, shape or form.

How can that be in the best interests of children? If a child pleads guilty, they may be penalised for around three and a half months, and 81%-the vast majority-do plead guilty. They do so because if they plead not guilty it will probably be one or two months before their case is even heard in court, and the full duration of the process may take up to a year. It is common sense that if the penalty is three and a half months for pleading guilty as opposed to in excess of a year for pleading not guilty, they will plead guilty. Again, that is intimidation of the highest order. The problem following prosecution is that the children, and members of their families, have a security record, so they cannot enter Israel or parts of Jerusalem.

I shall touch briefly on some cases of mistreatment of children. The details come from the Defence for Children International. Palestinian children have been used as human shields and their lives have been put at risk. In August, a 13-year-old was reportedly used as a human shield near Nablus. In October, the Israeli military authorities opened an investigation into the use of a 16-year-old girl as a shield. In November, two Israeli soldiers who used a nine-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield received suspended sentences and were demoted after being convicted of "inappropriate conduct". The unnamed soldiers ordered Majeh Rabah from the Tel Al-Hawa neighbourhood in Gaza city to check bags for explosives in January 2009 towards the end of the Israeli three-week offensive.

Will the Minister confirm that no one, let alone a nine-year-old child, should be used as a human shield? Does he agree that that is a disgrace, and a clear violation of international law? Has he made the strongest representations about the failure to hold those soldiers to account? We heard of disturbing new cases of tasers being used on children during interrogation. Will the Minister look into that as a matter of urgency?

Young people were threatened with electric shocks, and the threat alone convinced many of them to plead guilty to charges. But electric shocks are not just threatened; they are used in interrogation. We must remember that those children are on their own, have not seen their parents, and are not legally represented, yet they are blindfolded, with shackled arms and feet, and threatened with electric shocks. We heard reports from DCI that some children have had electrodes attached to their genitals with the threat of electric shocks. That is absolutely horrendous, and enough to break any reasonable person's heart.

We heard of a child being held in solitary confinement for 65 days at Al Jalameh. In east Jerusalem there have been an increased number of cases of abuse of children following clashes near the illegal Israeli settlements at Silwan, which we visited only a few days ago. Some 380 settlers had moved into 18 homes in that overcrowded Palestinian district of 13,500 people, leading to the demolition of Palestinian homes. In 2010, more than 1,200 criminal cases had been opened against children from occupied east Jerusalem alleging involvement in stone-throwing incidents. The youngest boy to be mistreated was only seven years old.

[Mr Roger Gale in the Chair]

There are many other problems in Jerusalem. A case lasting two years involved an innocent child. In another case, eight Palestinian teenagers were held for two years on testimony from soldiers that was subsequently overturned. There have been serious breaches of the fourth Geneva convention, and of the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the UN convention on the rights of the child, article 3 of which clearly states:

"In all actions concerning children...the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration."

That article is blatantly and openly violated. Those are not recent violations; they have happened consistently over 43 years of military occupation.

At some stage, we as politicians and members of the public must ask what we can do to ensure that Israel stops breaching and violating those articles, international laws and conventions. Over the past few days, UK representatives at the United Nations have agreed at committee level that such violations have taken place. Who are those representatives? What is their mandate? What are we doing about it? Is it for the UK Government to tell representatives on UN committees that action must be taken? We cannot continue to ignore such violations and the systematic abuse of children.

This is a cross-party matter; I am not here spoiling for a fight with the Government, and I hope that we can broadly agree that this matter is about children being abused at an international level. We have a duty as parents, fathers and decent people to protect children no matter what the circumstances, and regardless of their colour or creed, whether they are black or white, rich or poor, or which country they come from. I hope that the Minister will agree and explain to the House what we can do together in the simple name of moral humanity.