Stop shackling, abusing Palestinian children, UK artists and lawmakers tell Israel

Israeli occupation forces detain a Palestinian youth in the West Bank city of Hebron on 22 September 2013, during protests against road closures for the benefit of Jewish settlers.

Mamoun Wazwaz APA images

Film director Ken Loach, actor Kika Markham, fashion designer Bella Freud and Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, are among more than 120 UK politicians, artists, writers and trade unionists who signed a letter in the Guardian calling on Israel to end its abuses of Palestinian children.

The 25 September letter calls on Israel to implement recommendations made in Action for Palestine’s report “Children in Military Custody” last year.

The letter states in part:

We call on Israel to implement these recommendations: 1) An end to Israel’s nighttime raids and shackling of Palestinian children; 2) Audio-visual recordings of all interrogations; 3) Parents given the right to be present during questioning and the child’s right to access to a lawyer before their interrogation respected; 4) An end to the transfer of children to prisons inside Israel in breach of article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention; 5) An end to the use of solitary confinement.

Other signers include novelist Ahdaf Soueif, the Guardian’s legendary political cartoonist Steve Bell and Independent columnist and Chavs author Owen Jones.

Palestinian academics and writers endorsing the call included Salman Abu Sitta, Ghada Karmi, Kamel Hawwash, Karma Nabulsi and Nur Masalha.

Children tortured, threatened with rape

As of July this year there were 195 Palestinian children imprisoned and prosecuted by the Israeli occupation, according to Defence for Children International - Palestine Section.

A recent report by B’Tselem found that Palestinian children detained by Israeli occupation forces are routinely and systematically subjected to abuses amounting to torture and many are threatened with rape.

Children are often held in solitary confinement and subjected to interrogations without lawyers or parents present, in which the children are threatened and coerced into confessing to throwing stones or molotov cocktails at occupation forces.

Political and union support

The letter is also endorsed by nine sitting members of parliament (MPs) including Caroline Lucas, the sole MP for the Green Party in the UK parliament.

Seven others MPs are from the main opposition Labor Party: Richard Burden, Sandra Osborne, Lisa Nandy, Andy Slaughter, Grahame Morris, Katy Clark and Jeremy Corbin.

Peter Bottomley is the only MP from the ruling Conservative Party who signed the letter. No Liberal Democrat MPs, the coalition partners of the Conservatives, are among the names.

Other trade unionists endorsing the letter include Dave Prentis and Rodney Bickerstaffe, respectively the current and former leaders of UNISON, the UK’s biggest union, with more than 1.3 million members, and Bob Crow, leader of the maritime and railway workers’ union RMT.

UK government inaction

The “Children in Military Custody” report, written by leading UK legal experts, including human rights lawyer Geoffrey Bindman QC, created a buzz when it was published in June 2012 because it had been funded by the UK government.

As Asa Winstanley reported at the time, “Children in Military Custody” noted that the systematic abuse its authors found likely “stems from a belief, which was advanced to us by [an Israeli] military prosecutor, that every Palestinian child is a ‘potential terrorist.’”

But in the time since the report appeared, no action has been taken by the UK or any other European government to hold Israel accountable for the crimes and abuses against children that it documents.

It remains to be seen whether support from high profile public figures can help throw renewed light on the plight of so many children languishing in Israel’s dungeons and finally bring a response.