Chris Hayes MP – voicing support for Vamvakinou’s motion regarding the treatment of Palestinian children by the Israeli military

photo of Chris Hayes MP
November 21, 2016

As it stands, Israel is the only country that I am aware of that automatically prosecutes children before a military tribunal. Clearly, this is a discriminatory policy where Palestinian children and Israeli children are treated differently. The Israeli parliament recently passed a bill legalising the imprisonment of children under the age of 14. Amnesty International reports that children as young as 11 are being imprisoned on the West Bank and subject to physical and mental intimidation. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, recent proposals suggest Israeli authorities might even now be considering allowing life sentences to be handed down for children as young as 14.

Full speech

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (11:48): I second the motion and I will speak on it. I commend the member for Calwell on her motion today.

I accept the right for the Jewish state to exist and I believe the people of Israel are entitled to live in peace and protect their way of life. However, the treatment of Palestinian children is of great concern. Currently, they can be detained by soldiers and they can be interrogated by soldiers, and now they will be dealt with by a military court. As it stands, Israel is the only country that I am aware of that automatically prosecutes children before a military tribunal. Clearly, this is a discriminatory policy where Palestinian children and Israeli children are treated differently. The Israeli parliament recently passed a bill legalising the imprisonment of children under the age of 14. Amnesty International reports that children as young as 11 are being imprisoned on the West Bank and subject to physical and mental intimidation. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, recent proposals suggest Israeli authorities might even now be considering allowing life sentences to be handed down for children as young as 14.

All these developments give rise to grave concerns in relation to Israel’s international obligations, particularly as they relate to the rights of the child. I refer to one incident reported on by Human Rights Watch concerning a boy named Ahmed, who was 16 years of age. Israeli soldiers arrested him at about seven o’clock at a friend’s place. He was blindfolded, handcuffed and taken away to the police station, where he sat outside on the cold ground until 12.30 am. Afraid and shaken, he asked if he could call his father, but he was told that his parents would not be allowed into the interrogation. He was allowed to speak briefly to a lawyer by phone before the interrogation began well after midnight. The boy was accused of having a knife, which he denied, and then he was taken to a military compound. There, Ahmed says, six or seven soldiers forced him to lie on the ground and he was kicked and beaten. He spent the rest of the night on a chair in the courtyard in the cold night air. The next day, he was transferred to a detention facility. He was released after six days without charge, after the DNA test failed to link him to the knife in question.

Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Israel ratified in 1991, requires court procedures to take into account the age of child defendants. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel also ratified that same year, elaborates on this requirement and directs that states ensure children are ‘not compelled … to confess guilt.’ However, here the opposite appears seems to be occurring. Interestingly, UNICEF reported that in 168 of 208 Palestinian children’s affidavits collected in 2013-14, they said that they were not informed of their right for a lawyer and they were not informed of their right to remain silent during interrogations. Children said that they were subjected to physical violence in 171 cases.

In November 2015, the Israeli government authorised longer prison sentences for children convicted of throwing stones. But interestingly, as well as that, they allowed for the suspension of the social welfare payments to their families where a child is serving a custodial sentence. We need to be pressuring the Israeli government to look to detaining children only as a last resort and, where children are detained, the authorities must ensure that their safety and their welfare are prioritised and that they be given a fair trial.

We have recently witnessed the public outrage in this country over the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, which resulted in a royal commission. The physical and psychological punishment of children is abhorrent and should never be tolerated. Therefore we strongly urge the Israeli government to hold true to its international obligations respecting the rights of a child.

I would like to conclude with the words that Pope Benedict used in 2009 after he visited the Israeli-Palestinian region. He concluded: ‘Let the two-state solution become a reality and not remain a dream.’ We must hold true to that notion.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.

Link to parliamentary Hansard

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