Britain can do much more than express platitudes about the ‘human rights priority’ of Israel’s treat Published: Wed, 28-March-2018
Photo: Alistair Burt, Britain's Minister for the Middle East [File photo]

In the wake of Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi being sentenced to eight months in prison by an Israeli court for slapping an Israeli soldier who had entered her home, Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a statement calling upon Israel to improve the treatment of Palestinian children in military detention. “While we recognise that Israel has made some improvements,” said Minister of State for the Middle East Alistair Burt MP, “it needs to do much more to safeguard vulnerable people in its care.”

Indeed, he added, “The treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention remains a human rights priority for the UK. We will continue to call upon Israel to improve its practices in line with international law and obligations.”

While it is all well and good for Britain to be concerned about the treatment of Palestinian children held by Israel, is the government doing enough to make Israel change? I don’t think so.

Burt made no mention of the fact that it is the Israeli military occupation which is responsible for the misery of Palestinian children, whether held in detention or not. The minister’s use of the term “unresolved conflict” ignores the reality that with no occupation there would be no conflict.

Furthermore, while the treatment of Palestinian children should indeed be a “human rights priority”, it is a basic human right for all prisoners, children and adults alike, to be treated justly after due process has been completed. Israel still makes use of the “administrative detention” law introduced by the British Mandate authorities to hold Palestinians indefinitely with neither charge nor trial. Where is Britain’s concern about the rights of those prisoners?

It is true that the conflict “is blighting the lives of a new generation who should be growing up together in peace, but continue to be divided.” However, it is time for Alistair Burt and those like him to address the small matter of divisive statements issued by political and religious officials in Israel which stoke intolerance and give a degree of legitimacy to the state’s attitude towards and treatment of Palestinians. Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, for example, has called for all non-Jews to be forced out of Israel and said that those who remain are there for one thing only, which is to serve the Jews. This is an outrageously racist claim, as was his more recent description of Black people as “monkeys”.

Perhaps Burt might like to comment on the remarks of Israel’s Deputy Education Minister Eli Ben Dahan, who has said that, “[Palestinians] are beasts, they are not human.” He has also said that, “A Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile, even if he is a homosexual.” Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used “beasts” to describe Palestinians when he said, “We need to protect ourselves from wild beasts” Such racist remarks, of which the Israeli officials are proud, clearly do not spring to the British Minister’s mind when he speaks about the rights of the Palestinians.

Instead of Britain offering “to help the Israeli authorities” with regard to their treatment of Palestinian children in their jails, Burt and his colleagues in Westminster should put pressure on Tel Aviv to end the policy of arresting Palestinian children and placing them before military courts in the first place. In his latest statement, Burt could have acknowledged that successive British governments have known about Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinian children for more than decade but have done nothing of substance to bring it to an end. Instead, Britain continues to accept Israel’s self-declared exceptionalism and “self-defence” narrative.

Although the British Minister for the Middle East said that Israel “has made some improvements” in its treatment of “vulnerable people in its care”, a well-respected Israeli NGO has refuted claims that it has improved the treatment of Palestinian children inside its court system. If he was really unaware of this, then I suggest that he should be briefed more thoroughly by his civil servants before making such statements.

Burt’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, has said that she is proud of Britain’s role in the establishment of the State of Israel. She rejected calls to apologise for the Balfour Declaration, the centenary of which last year was marked “with pride” even though it gave away Palestinian land for the creation of a “national home for the Jewish people” and led, ultimately, to the way that Israel continues the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and colonisation of even more land. The mindset behind the ethnic cleansing is the same as that which allows the mistreatment of all Palestinians, including children and other “vulnerable people” by the state of Israel today. May went on to welcome her counterpart Netanyahu to 10, Downing Street; the same man, remember, who thinks that Palestinians are “wild beasts”.

Instead of issuing meaningless statements, Alistair Burt should have gone straight to Israel with an army of lawyers to defend Ahed Tamimi and those like her who cannot hope to receive justice at the hands of an Israeli military court. If he is unwilling to do that, he should remain silent and not comment on crimes for which he and his country must take at least some share of the responsibility. Britain can, and should, do much more than express platitudes about the ‘human rights priority’ of Israel’s treatment of children in detention.

Author : Motasem A Dalloul
The author is MEMO’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip.


Source: Middle East Monitor