Palestine’s forgotten children
by Lord Norman Warner, July 13, 2016
Next year will mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and the
50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Britain has a
historic responsibility to challenge the Israeli government’s conduct in
the West Bank and Gaza.
Next year will mark the centenary of the
Balfour Declaration as well as the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of
the West Bank. With no sign of an active peace process between the parties,
here in Britain we have a historic responsibility to seriously challenge the
Israeli government’s conduct in the West Bank and Gaza. On a recent visit to
the West Bank, I saw powerfully for myself the need for better legal protection
for young Palestinians. Without this I fear that we will engender an entire
lost generation of forgotten Palestinian children.
Yair Golan, the deputy head of the Israeli
military, caused an uproar in April when he called for “national
soul-searching” and warned that “there is nothing easier than to behave
like an animal and to act sanctimoniously”. Earlier this year I understood
better what he meant when I found myself sitting in disbelief whilst watching
proceedings unfold in Ofer Israeli military court in the occupied West Bank.
Israel is a democracy that claims to practice
the rule of law. But here were Palestinian children, shuffling into court with
their hands tied and their feet manacled. Waiting to go into the court room, we
spoke to families who often haven’t seen their children for weeks and only then
after struggling on lengthy journeys through numerous checkpoints. They told us
– a cross-Party group of UK Parliamentarians – their personal experiences in a
defeated, world-weary way.
The courtroom itself was small, crowded and
A cast of actors jostled and moved around; prosecutors, defence
counsels, ushers, warders, clerks, together with unidentifiable others who
float in and out.
Conspicuous by their absence were witnesses or indeed any
process by which evidence is tested in court. Things became clearer when we
learnt that after interrogation – sometimes when sleep-deprived and often
without the presence of a lawyer – virtually every defendant pleads guilty in
order to secure a shorter period in custody.
The proceedings were presided over by a
uniformed military judge whose main preoccupation seems to be ensuring that the
prisoners in the dock are those on his flow of dockets.
A series of brief
exchanges followed between the judge and the prosecution, another soldier, and
the defence, a civilian lawyer who has not met the defendants before. The judge
then announces his decision, but not necessarily facing the defendants. If a
family is willing to pay a fine – often substantial – the prisoner may be
released, but only after payment. A father rushes out of court after securing
the paperwork to try to pay in time for his son’s release for a family wedding.
We subsequently learn that according to the military court’s annual report for
2011, $3.4 million a year in fines is raised, so Palestinians seem to be
funding their own misery.
Over 160 children are now detained in Israeli
prisons illegally outside the West Bank with a further 276 held near Ramallah. Military
Court Watch say that the number of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli
forces has risen by 156 per cent
since September 2015 and that many of these children are beaten and held in
unsafe and abusive conditions. A lawyer with Military Court Watch said:
“Palestinian children are treated in ways that would terrify and traumatize an
Most of these children are arrested for
throwing stones. Usually they will be in custody for about three months. If not
detained at the scene of their alleged offence, they will have been picked up
later, often during a terrifying raid on their family’s home by Israeli
soldiers in the middle of the night – a terrifying experience for the whole
family. They may have been given up by a Palestinian informant, possibly under
duress, to the network of local military intelligence officers.
It makes little
difference whether or not they are guilty – they will plead guilty anyway and a
regime based on intimidation and fear will have been reinforced. All this
happens under the regime operated by the Israeli Defence Force in the West Bank
– occupied for nearly 50 years – and fully sanctioned by the Israeli government,
despite it being a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
appears that those rights apply only to children living in Israel itself and to
the children of illegal Israeli settlers living on the West of course, viewed from the Israeli government’s
perspective, this military system has
been very effective in controlling the 2.7 million Palestinians who live in the
West Bank while protecting over 400,000 Israelis who have settled there illegally
since 1967 (this figure does not include 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem).
There are now over 125 of these settlements, in reality towns, sanctioned by
the Israeli government and over 100 so-called “outposts” which in turn will
According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, this Israeli
settler population is expanding at over three times the rate of the Israeli
population as a whole.
Each day in Palestine brings new demolitions
of Palestinian structures sometimes those funded by international aid. Since
the beginning of 2016 alone, nearly 600 structures have been demolished and
over 800 Palestinians displaced, half of whom were children. There are now over
11,000 approved demolition orders for these structures awaiting execution,
usually with little notice and sometimes in the middle of the night. The state
of unrest in the West Bank remains troubling, with increasing deaths and
serious injuries of both Palestinians and Israelis, although the numbers for
the former are much larger than those of the latter.
Palestinian children now grow up in a culture
of fear, intimidation, suspicion and sometimes death. We saw this in sharp
relief when we visited a house in Duma firebombed by settlers, killing the
parents and their baby. For this generation of Palestinian children there is no
horizon of hope that the misery will end. A divided and elderly Palestinian
political cadre now seems powerless to halt the illegal annexation of their people’s
land under the oversight of an occupying military force.
The Israeli government allows the transfer of
civilians into the West Bank to illegally occupy Palestinian land despite this
being regarded by many legal experts as a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome
Statute of the International Criminal Court. Is it really any surprise that
teenagers throw stones in protest?
Given our history in this part of the world,
a responsible British Government should be considering now a more effective
international challenge to stopping the Israeli government’s consequence-free
ability to inflict illegal and inhumane treatment on the Palestinian children
and their families. That is the least these forgotten children deserve.
SOURCE: Open democracy