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 thank my right hon. Friend for that question. It is crucial to have a consistent approach from the Government, the European Union and particularly from the United States Government-the one country to which Israel listens. The issues in question must be raised consistently, just as we would do with other countries around the world.

One specific point that relates tangentially to the debate about settlements is the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford. Following her visit last week, she said that she will press for products that come from the settlements to be labelled as such, so that consumers who want to exercise consumer choice not to purchase settlement-produced goods can do so.

I am conscious of the time and I want to say a few things in conclusion. First, I pay tribute to the excellent work of a wide range of NGOs, some Palestinian, some Israeli and some international. Save the Children does very important work in the west bank. I was reading about an example of that yesterday. The post-trauma rehabilitation of Palestinian ex-detainee children programme reaches hundreds of children. It works with formerly detained children, most of whom undergo individual and group counselling sessions in addition to vocational training and assessment programmes. The post-trauma rehabilitation programme, for instance, offers opportunities for children who are often trapped in a cycle of conflict. That work is critical in addressing post-traumatic stress syndrome which, it is reported, many of the ex-detainee children experience following their ordeal.

I support a point made by one of my hon. Friends in relation to the reports of Israeli soldiers using a child as a human shield and the lenient sentences recently dealt to those soldiers. I say to Israel that we need to see a firmer stance being taken by the Israeli courts in such cases. Evidence documented by B'Tselem has shown that cases of human rights abuses such as those that we have heard about today are not isolated. Israel has a responsibility to end the culture of impunity. I argue strongly not only that that is right legally and morally, but that it is in Israel's own best interests.

Of course, Palestinian human rights are violated not only by Israel. They are sometimes violated by the Palestinian Authority itself and by Hamas in Gaza. My hon. Friend John Woodcock referred to that in his intervention. Human Rights Watch said earlier this year:

"The reports of torture by Palestinian security services keep rolling in. President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad are well aware of the situation. They need to reverse this rampant impunity and make sure that those responsible are prosecuted."

A recent example is the case of 42-year-old Ahmed Salhab from Hebron-not a child; an adult. Ahmed was detained by the Palestinian Authority in the west bank in September. Following his release in October, Human Rights Watch called for an investigation into his treatment when it learned that he had sustained serious spinal injuries and suffered mental distress during his detention.

The excellent Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights publishes regular monthly reports that demonstrate human rights abuses by the Palestinian Authority in the west bank and by Hamas in Gaza. It is vital that we are consistent, so we must condemn these abuses across the board. Today's focus, however, is on the human rights of children in the west bank. There are clearly broader human rights issues for which we must press all parties in the region take responsibility-examples are freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the media, and gender and sexuality issues-and of course there are many other countries where children's rights are violated.

The debate is timely: it is being held during human rights week, and 10 December is world human rights day. I hope that today's debate can contribute to increased public awareness and increase pressure on all parties to abide by international conventions and uphold human rights. In conclusion, I shall echo something that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield said: the UK has a special responsibility in this case. I look forward to the Minister's response to this important debate. I strongly believe that a clear and consistent approach to human rights should always be at the centre of the UK's foreign policy. I hope that the Minister will take every opportunity to press both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to uphold human rights in the west bank. I hope in particular, following what we have heard today, that he will raise the concerns that exist on both sides of the House about the treatment of Palestinian children in detention.