I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind; there is a time limit and an awful lot to get through.
As I said in the House on 9 January, Israel’s treatment of Palestinian minors, particularly the practice of holding them in military detention, remains a human rights priority for this Government, as set out in the universal periodic review. Clearly, the whole situation is inextricably mixed up with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, which is also why there are no civilian detention facilities. The situation will not be resolved until a settlement is negotiated that serves the interest of both sides. I will return to that later.
Children are entitled to special protections and due process under international humanitarian law. Those protections are reaffirmed in the UN convention on the rights of the child, to which Israel is a state party. Many of the issues raised today come fully within that convention. To take a phrase from its text:
“States Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth”.
That covers quite a lot. I do not stint in making very clear that Israel needs to live up to what is in conventions that it signs. We are talking here about everybody who is responsible, and everybody who bears the need to respond to obligations, and that is one right there.
We recognise, as a number of Members said, that Israel has made some progress toward fulfilling those obligations. It has reduced the number of detainees aged between 12 and 14, increased the age of maturity from 16 to 18, established separate juvenile courts and enacted a special statute of limitations for minors. However, our assessment is that Israel is still falling short and needs to do more to safeguard vulnerable people in its care.
In 2012, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sponsored an independent report, “Children in Military Custody”, by leading British lawyers, as has been mentioned. It made 40 specific recommendations for protecting child detainees, including that Israel should make audio-visual recording mandatory in interrogations, that it should stop using painful restraints and that it should inform detainees fully and consistently of their legal rights. To our knowledge, Israel has only implemented one of those recommendations. We have repeatedly and publicly called on Israel to fulfil its international legal obligations, and I do so again today.
In answer to the question of what we can try to do about this, I raised our concerns during my visit to Israel last summer, and our ambassador in Tel Aviv raised the issue with the Israeli Justice Minister as recently as December. We have a regular dialogue with Israeli authorities on legal issues relating to the occupation, as part of which we discuss the treatment of Palestinian children in military custody. Our “Human Rights and Democracy Report 2016” explicitly referred to Israel’s treatment of children in detention and this year’s report does likewise, as colleagues will see when it is published shortly. We also raised the issue at the United Nations universal periodic review last month, as I said, and while welcoming the positive steps that Israel has taken since the last review in 2012, we urged the Israelis to take further action to meet their obligations. We also continue to urge them to implement in full the recommendations I mentioned earlier.
Significantly, the hon. Member for Rotherham spoke about an understanding, particularly given her background, of wanting to help in this situation. It serves no one’s purpose to use the detention of minors as a weapon in this long-running dispute, and it serves nobody’s interest to defend a situation if minors are treated wrongly. It serves us all to work toward a situation where those who are engaged in detaining people for infringement of law do so only in a manner that absolutely conducive to fulfilling their obligations.
It is in that spirit that the United Kingdom continues its efforts. We are committed to helping the Israeli authorities to make the necessary changes. Last year, we invited them to attend expert discussions with the Metropolitan Police to share more than 30 years of UK experience of implementing regulations designed specifically to protect the rights of minors in detention. Do we have to arrest young people? Yes, we do, but it is all a question of how we do it and in what context. We were disappointed when our invitation was declined. It is not a threatening invitation or a condemnatory invitation, but an opportunity to put something right. It still stands, and we hope it is taken up in due course.
Turning to Ahed Tamimi, as the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) said, I do indeed know the family. I cannot recall whether I met Ahed Tamimi when I was in the village, but I know the Tamimi family. Although I cannot verify absolutely everything the hon. Gentleman says, I recognise the description of the village that he gave. It is absolutely correct. From the village people can see the settlement on the other side, and see the water that is the source of distress and discontent in the area. This case has rightly kept the issue of the mistreatment of child detainees in the spotlight. Footage of Ms Tamimi’s arrest, aged 16, for slapping an Israeli soldier has been shared widely online.
None of us was there to hear everything that was said. I know that remarks from Ms Tamimi, quoted on television in Arabic, have not been translated in a manner that her lawyer recognises, and we are not entirely sure of what was said, but the language is there. It is on television for people to hear. Her case is of concern to all of us here who know of it. I said in the House the other week that it was a sad case, and I repeat that. In answer to the many letters I have had since making my comment in the House, I do not in any way wish to excuse Ms Tamimi’s behaviour, but nor do I condone her treatment. As I said in the House, I believe that she should not have needed to do what she did, because the soldiers should not have been there. Let me explain that still further. These flashpoints are a direct consequence of the failure to reach an agreement, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, in her wisdom and long experience of this subject, rightly said. They are more evidence of how the unresolved conflict continues to blight the lives of all those involved.
It is a tragedy that each new generation, which should be growing up together in peace, continues to be divided. It is not that the Israeli soldiers did not have a right at the time to be in land they are occupying; they did. It is not that the young lady should have done what she did; she should not. But the circumstances just should not now be arising, because we should have settled this. That is as important for Israel as it is for the Palestinians. We are following developments on Ms Tamimi’s case closely and, while it is ultimately a matter for the Israeli authorities, we have raised our concerns with the Israeli ambassador here in London, and with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice in Tel Aviv.
Let me conclude as I have previous debates. I find these debates incredibly sad. We should not be having them, because the situation that gives rise to them needs to end. That can only happen with the resolution of issues by direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian people. I do not find it incompatible to believe passionately in the existence and the security of the state of Israel and in justice for the Palestinian people in lands I first visited 40 years ago, based on the efforts of peacemakers over the years. I also believe passionately that it is never too late, although it might soon be so.
The UK will do it all it can. It will make every effort and strain every sinew to work, upon the resumption of the middle east peace process, to support those who wish finally to bring that conflict to an end. Israel is a close and trusted friend of the United Kingdom. As such, we do not shy away from raising our serious concerns about the detention and treatment of minors in military facilities, but we understand the context in which Israel works, as everyone in this room does. However, the situation we have described today is just one of the many compelling reasons why we will continue to support progress toward a two-state solution. I want to see a situation in which it is no longer the case that a young IDF conscript and a Palestinian youngster have the options that they seem to have at the moment, so that they have a better chance of a better future together.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered military detention of Palestinian children by Israeli Authorities.