Detention of Palestinian Children (West Bank)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:01 pm on 7th December 2010.

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Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 12:01 pm, 7th December 2010

I see the Minister nodding-we have cross-party agreement on that.

This is my first opportunity to speak about the middle east since I joined the shadow Foreign Office team in October. My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, the shadow Foreign Secretary, visited Israel and the west bank last week, and met a range of Palestinian and Israeli leaders, including President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. I would like to reaffirm the Labour party's long-standing commitment to the middle east peace process and a solution based on the two states of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, and human rights at the heart of the process. Progress will require action by both sides, although in the context of this debate, particularly by Israel to end the expansion of settlements and the blockade of Gaza, as well as action by the Palestinians and other Arab states to fulfil their obligations under the principles of the Quartet.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock focused on the plight of Palestinian children and, although I am a friend of Israel, I condemn everything that we have heard about today. That should not be difficult for a friend of Israel to do. If we are serious about the peace process, those of us who have long been friends of Israel must be clear that we are also friends of the Palestinians. I see my hon. Friend Richard Burden nodding; I know he believes that that can be achieved, provided that we stick with the absolute principles of human rights and democracy.

I deplore the methods that we have heard about in such detail today, primarily because they violate the universal principles of human rights, but also because they exacerbate tensions and undermine the prospects for peace. I pay tribute to the organisations mentioned during the debate and the brave NGOs that take up such causes. In particular, I mention Defence for Children International and the Israeli human rights organisation, B'Tselem, which does fantastic work in that field.

My hon. Friend Grahame M. Morris mentioned night arrests, which are of particular concern especially if, as is alleged, they involve the use of physical violence. That cannot be right morally, but it must also worsen community tensions in what are already difficult and fragile circumstances. As a number of my hon. Friends have said, interrogation methods include the use of blindfolding and sleep deprivation to obtain confessions. Detainees are often presented with a confession written in Hebrew-a language that the vast majority of them do not understand. Several cases have been cited that suggest that people have signed confessions that they did not understand, which is not right or defensible. There is a lack of legal representation for detainees; many reports from international and Israeli human rights groups describe detainees not being permitted proper legal counsel throughout their interrogation. As we have heard, the majority of cases end in a confession.

Data from B'Tselem suggest that the number of detainees have been relatively constant over the recent period. At the end of October, just over a month ago, 251 minors were detained by Israeli security forces in the west bank, including east Jerusalem-my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock also cited that figure. That is of great concern, but I am particularly worried about those 34 detainees who are aged between 12 and 15, and the two aged between 16 and 18 who are being held under administrative detention.

Earlier, there was an exchange with Guto Bebb, who is no longer in his seat, about the application of human rights conventions in the occupied territories, and the security situation. I have two observations about that. First, even if Israel argues that obligations on human rights do not apply in the case of an occupied territory, international humanitarian law is clear and should be respected. I would urge Israel to apply the conventions on human rights as well. Secondly, as has been mentioned previously, according to the convention on the rights of the child-to which Israel is a welcome signatory-a child is defined as

"every human being under the age of 18 years."

Nevertheless, we still have the inconsistencies and discriminatory practices to which reference has been made.