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UK parliament presses issue of children in Israeli military custody


Two Palestinian boys sit, handcuffed and blindfolded as they wait transportation to a military prison. Photo by AFP.

Palestinian child detainees

Oral Answers to Questions

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE

October 29, 2013

The Secretary of State was asked—

Palestinian Child Detainees

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the treatment of Palestinian child detainees in Israel. [900728]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Hugh Robertson): Before answering, may I briefly place on the record my appreciation for the work of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt)? He will be greatly missed by his many friends in the House and across the region.

Despite some progress, we retain serious concerns about Israel’s treatment of Palestinian child detainees. The British ambassador in Tel Aviv wrote again to the Israeli Justice Minister on 14 October to urge further action.

Alex Cunningham: I welcome the Minister to his new post. May I commend the Foreign Office report “Children in Military Custody”* for exposing how the authorities in Israel arrest Palestinian children in the middle of the night, interrogate them without parents or lawyers present, bully them into signing confessions in a language they do not understand, and jail children as young as 12 years old? Will the Minister outline what action he is taking and tell the House how many of the 40 recommendations in the report have been carried out?

Hugh Robertson: I am due to make my first visit to the region next week, so will be addressing many of the concerns outlined in the hon. Gentleman’s question. As he knows, the Foreign Office funded the report carried out by Baroness Scotland. We continue to urge the Government of Israel to implement it in full. As I have said, I will be taking that up next week.

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): I warmly welcome the Minister to his responsibilities—if I may say so, he brings a terrific track record.

Does the Minister agree that the question of detainees is inextricably linked to the overall security situation in the region and progress in peace talks? Does he share my concern that Hamas is resolutely and literally trying to undermine the peace process in the region by building a tunnel from Gaza into Israel**, no doubt for the purposes of promoting terrorism? What can we do to remove that obstacle?

Mr Speaker: That was quite a cheeky attempt by the hon. Gentleman. I think the Minister should try to focus his remarks on the issue of child detainees. We are grateful to him for doing so.

Hugh Robertson: Thank you, Mr Speaker—it will, of course, be a great pleasure.

As I said in my answer to the previous question, I look forward to my initial visit to the region next week. The concerns that my hon. Friend raises will be a topic of much discussion. The encouraging thing is that, for the first time in many years, we are in a process. I encourage both sides to engage in that peace process for the greater good of the country and the region.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): When the Minister visits the region, will he raise with his Israeli counterparts why Israel is the only country in the world that systematically tries children in military courts, and why about a quarter of the children currently in custody are held in Israel, which is also contrary to international law?

Hugh Robertson: Yes, I will do so. As I have said, the Foreign Office helped to fund Baroness Scotland’s excellent report into many of the issues surrounding child detainees. We not only funded that report, but entirely support it. During my time as a Minister, I will do everything I can to ensure that its recommendations are properly and correctly implemented.

Below L, Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North, R. Conservative MP for Enfield David Burrowes. We recommend he keeps up to date with issues like Palestinian textbooks by regularly checking the JfJfP website.
 
Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I join hon. Members who have concerns about the treatment of detainees, but is it not important to focus on the source of the problem, which is Palestinian children being infected by the glorification of violence and hate education***, which, sadly, are supported by the Palestinian Authority? Can the Minister assure me that taxpayer funding does not support such activities?

Hugh Robertson: Yes, on the basis of three weeks’ work, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. In a sense, his question points to the importance of everybody concerned getting behind the peace process. If that comes successfully to fruition, many of those problems will be solved in its wake.


Children in Military Custody full report, pdf file.
Report written after visit to Israel Palestine by delegation of British lawyers.

The visit was funded by the United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office, which also provided diplomatic support throughout the visit, on the shared understanding that the delegation was to be entirely independent. The content, conclusions and recommendations of the report are accordingly the delegation’s own.



Israeli soldiers enter the tunnel after its discovery. Photo by Tsafrir Abayov/AP

**Hamas admits responsibility for tunnel from Gaza into Israel

Spokesman says it was dug as part of plans to force Israel to release Palestinian prisoners

By Reuters/ Guardian
October 21, 2013

Hamas Islamists in the Gaza strip have claimed responsibility for a tunnel that Israel said was found beneath the heavily fortified Israel-Gaza frontier.

A website for the Hamas radio station al Aqsa said the group’s armed wing was responsible for what it called the Khan Younis tunnel, named after a part of the coastal territory where the tunnel was found.

A spokesman for the Islamist group’s military wing, Abu Ubaida, said in an interview broadcast by the station that the movement’s armed brigades “dug the tunnel, they were responsible for it”.

Ubaida said the tunnel had been dug to try to force Israel to release some of the thousands of prisoners it holds in its jails. In 2011, Israel freed 1,400 inmates for the return of its soldier Gilad Shalit, whom militants had captured and spirited across the Gaza border in 2006 through a tunnel.

Last week Israel announced the discovery of the latest tunnel, which is 2.5 km (1.5 miles) long, and accused Hamas of being behind its construction.

The Israeli military said the tunnel, dug in sandy soil, had been reinforced with concrete supports. Israel responded by halting the transfer of building materials to Gaza.

For years Israel refused to allow these goods into the territory because it said militants would use them to build fortifications and weapons.

In 2010, as part of its easing of the Gaza blockade, Israel gave foreign aid organisations the green light to import construction material for public projects. Last month, Israel resumed the transfer of cement and steel to Gaza’s private sector.


***TEXTBOOKS
Israeli and Palestinian textbooks erase the other side, report finds

Flawed maps and references to the enemy rife, State Department-funded study finds, though Israeli state schoolbooks are a little more balanced

By Elhanan Miller, Times of Israel
February 4, 2013

School textbooks in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority largely eliminate one another’s existence in maps, although the Israeli curriculum is more balanced and self-critical than the Palestinian, new research published on Monday found.

Nintey-six percent of the maps examined in Palestinian textbooks either did not indicate the Green Line (the armistice line created following Israel’s 1948 War of Independence) or indicated it but still referred to the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as “Palestine.”

Among the Israeli textbooks, 76% did not indicate any line between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, 11% depicted a line but did not acknowledge the Palestinian Territories by name, and only 13% acknowledged areas belonging to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo agreements.

Ramallah welcomed the report, saying it proved the Palestinians were not using textbooks to incite youth, but officials in Jerusalem called the findings “slanted and nonobjective.”

The obligation to prevent incitement in school textbooks was included in the Oslo B peace agreements of 1995 and in the Wye River agreement of 1998. US President George W. Bush reiterated the need for bias-free curriculum in his Road Map of 2003, but a joint Israeli-Palestinian task force created to eliminate incitement in both societies produced no tangible result.

The joint study, initiated by the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land and funded by the US State Department, took three years to complete and was conducted by education experts Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University, Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University, and Bruce Wexler of Yale University.

Searching for each community’s cultural and religious presentation of the other side and of itself, researchers carried out an in-depth analysis of dozens of currently used school textbooks, encompassing the subjects of history, languages, geography, social studies, civics and religion.

The study found that ultra-Orthodox Jewish textbooks were similar to Palestinian books in their imbalance and lack of self-criticism, while textbooks used by Israeli state schools — while still largely conveying a one-sided national narrative — included more substantive information on Palestinian society, presenting a slightly more balanced outlook.

Contrary to common belief, neither side portrayed the other using terms taken from the world of biology, zoology or medicine and no side truly demonized the other side, the study found. However, characterization of the other side as the enemy was rife on both sides, with 75 percent of Israeli textbooks and 81 percent of Palestinian describing the opposing community as the enemy.

The self-perception of each society was also highlighted by the study. Fifty-four percent of references in Israeli state textbooks viewed Israeli society as either positive or very positive, while 85% of Palestinian self-references were either positive or very positive.

Self-criticism was completely lacking in ultra-Orthodox textbooks, where no critical or even neutral self-depictions were detected. Forty-six percent of references to the in-group were “very positive,” a categorization denoting supremacist attitudes.

The report was received differently in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority.

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed the report, expressing satisfaction with what he said was the fact that the Palestinian textbooks were not found to contain “any form of ‘blatant’ incitement based on contempt toward the ‘other’.”

Fayyad said he had instructed the PA’s Ministry of Education to study the report and implement its findings, updating school curricula to express Palestinian values of “coexistence, tolerance, justice, and human dignity.” Fayyad called on Israel to deal with the report “in the same spirit.”

But Israel’s Education Ministry refused to cooperate with the study, claiming in a press statement that its conclusions were unfair and foregone.

“Following an examination by experts both within and without the Education Ministry … it was clearly revealed that the study was slanted, unprofessional and extremely nonobjective,” a spokesman for the ministry told The Times of Israel.

The ministry added that even embarking upon a comparison of the Israeli and Palestinian education systems was “baseless and detached from reality,” and it therefore refused to cooperate with elements interested in “slandering the Israeli education system and the state of Israel.”

The study’s findings, the statement concluded, proved that the ministry’s decision not to cooperate with its authors was “justified and correct.”

The Anti-Defamation League also criticized the study, calling it “distorted and counterproductive.” ADL director Abraham Foxman said that by creating an equivalency between Israeli and Palestinian school curricula, the study blurred the issue “beyond recognition.”

While acknowledging the difficulty of both sides in freeing themselves of their own national narratives, Bruce Wexler of Yale, who presented the study on Monday, said the Israeli allegations of the research’s one-sidedness were “false and slanderous.”

Israeli-Palestinian schoolbook Project:
The “Portrayal of the Other” in Palestinian and Israeli school books

Report initiated by Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.

“A joint Palestinian-Israeli research team – headed by Professors Daniel Bar-Tal (Tel Aviv University) and Sami Adwan (Bethlehem University) – was formed, employing 10 research assistants (6 Israeli and 4 Palestinian, all fluent in Arabic and Hebrew) to analyze texts of 370 Israeli and 102 Palestinian books from grades 1 to 12.

“A Scientific Advisory Panel was also assembled, consisting of European, American, Palestinian and Israeli experts in school book analysis, history and education, who will oversee all aspects of the work. This was the first study to constitute a joint Israeli/Palestinian research team and use identical, standardized scientific methods in a simultaneous and comprehensive study of both Israeli and Palestinian books with oversight by an expert Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP).

“The study developed in such a way that it thematically went beyond what the Council had asked for. Accordingly, it was found best to be published in the name of the scholars who did it. The research was published and presented to the public on 4th February 2013.”

Fall-out from textbook study
 February 2013.
Israeli textbooks also obliterate ‘the other’, January 2013
Study: Palestinian textbooks do not incite hate, February 2013.

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