Among MPs to contribute in the Westminster Hall debate on ‘Child Prisoners and Detainees: Occupied Palestinian Territories’, were CFI’s three Vice-Chairmen Andrew Percy MP, John Howell OBE MP, and Guto Bebb MP.
MP for Brigg and Goole, Andrew Percy, made a number of contributions throughout the debate, which was secured by Labour MP Sarah Champion.
Mr Percy intervened during Mr Howell’s speech to further underline the issue of incitement and presented a doll that had been recently intercepted by Israeli customs: “One of the biggest issues, of course, is incitement. Does he share my concern about the container of children’s dolls that was headed for the Palestinian territories?”
Brandishing the doll during the debate, Mr Percy said: “I have brought one with me today—although we are not allowed to use aids. Each doll is dressed up, has a rock in its hand and has messages saying, ‘Jerusalem is ours’ and ‘We are coming for Jerusalem’ on it. A child with a rock in its hand—how on earth are we ever going to get peace between these two peoples when children are incited from a young age into committing what are, quite often, very serious acts of violence that have resulted in death?”
Earlier on in the debate, the Brigg and Goole MP asked Sarah Champion MP: “The context in which Israel operates on the West Bank is obviously incredibly difficult and none of us would want to find ourselves in it. With that in mind, will she comment on the failure of the Palestinian Authority to work with the Israeli authorities on the West Bank on alternatives to detention? She knows full well that they will not engage in such alternatives. I hope that she also knows full well that the difficulty of arresting people during the day instead of the night is that it has led to deaths and riots. The authorities are operating in a very difficult context”.
Intervening during Labour MP Diana Johnson’s speech, Andrew Percy MP said: “I could not agree more on trying to bring groups together. On a recent visit to Israel—I declare an interest—we met the MEET group, which brings Palestinian and Jewish children together. It is a fantastic organisation”.
He continued: “However, the hon. Lady knows I was a schoolteacher. Would I have delivered the following to any of my lessons? This is from a grade 8 Palestinian textbook: ‘Today’s Muslim countries need urgently Jihad and Jihad fighters in order to liberate the robbed land and to get rid of the robbing Jews’. That is the context of a lot of the violence. Yes, we must hold Israel to account, but we must also hold the Palestinians to account for the abuse of children through the school system”.
In his speech, John Howell OBE emphasised that the continuing incitement from the PA was an obstacle to peace: “The context for the debate is the level of incitement against the state of Israel from the Palestinian territories. Both Israel and the Palestinians are legally bound to abstain from incitement and hostile propaganda in accordance with the Oslo agreement and the 2003 road map, which called on all Palestinian institutions to end incitement against Israel. The Palestinian Authority’s failure to deliver on its commitment to end incitement and hate education explicitly undermines the principles and conditions on which the peace process is built”.
The MP for Henley, continued: “In that context, the level of continuing incitement from the Palestinian Authority is hard to believe”.
Speaking about Israel’s changes to the process in detaining minors, Mr Howell said: “Considering the use of young people in the incitement process, it is quite amazing that the state of Israel has made the changes that it has to the process by which it deals with that serious matter. The majority of arrests, for example, occur during the day, and those that are conducted at night are done at that time to minimise the danger to Israelis and Palestinians, including Israel defence forces”.
He explained: “The interrogation procedure is carried out in Arabic, not in Hebrew, and statements are written in Arabic. Appeals can be made to the courts that have been set up to hear the cases, and all minors brought before the court during the investigation or thereafter are represented by lawyers of their choice, provided by them or by the Palestinian Authority”.
Arguing that criticism on the issue had been “unfairly selective against Israel”, Mr Howell drew attention to specific cases of PA human rights violations in the West Bank. He said: “In 2014—according to a Palestinian non-governmental organisation, so the figures are independent—some 2,500 Palestinian children in the west bank had been arrested by the Palestinian Authority. A number of those children were mistreated, and I will give some examples. One 15-year-old Palestinian was arrested on 24 April 2015 after a group of youths threw rocks at Palestinian Authority forces. He was beaten on his head, arm and foot with a rifle butt by a Palestinian Authority policeman…Of the 81 Palestinian children whom the NGO had identified and provided legal aid to in 2014, almost half had suffered some form of physical violence at the hands of Palestinian police and security forces, so the argument here is not at all about just one side—that it is Israel that is the perpetrator of these attacks on children”.
Guto Bebb, the MP for Aberconwy, asked Mr Howell: “Does my hon. Friend agree that the extent of Palestinian incitement of young people to take arms and violent action almost becomes an issue of child abuse?”
Responding to Bob Stewart MP, who asked whether the “nub of the problem is the fact that there are two legal systems operating and they are not equalised?”, John Howell said: “No, the nub of this issue is that Palestinian incitement continues. As long as it does, we will not get peace in the area. We have to end the Palestinian incitement. I urge the Foreign Office to take action on that”.
Click here to read the full debate.