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Monday, 21 November 2016
Page: 3829

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (17:02): I am pleased to support this motion. It is not hard to think about the conflict between Israel and Palestine and throw your hands up in despair. Few other conflicts on the planet create such polarised views around the globe and have such an embedded effect upon the current structure of international relations. Few other conflicts evoke such heated discussion elsewhere than in the region from which they originate.

However, I am not here today to take a side. The story of Israel and Palestine is tragic in both its length and its depth of suffering. Whilst there are many injustices in the conflict, I am here to talk about one in particular: the increasing use of military detention of Palestinian children by Israeli forces. I am indebted to the work of UNICEF for much of the information that I will now relate to the chamber.

Israel established its juvenile military court in September 2009, the first and only military court in operation in the world. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated that state parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child should establish separate facilities for children deprived of their liberty, including distinct child-centred staff, personnel, policies and practices. I agree with UNICEF's conclusion that all children should be diverted wherever possible from entering the law enforcement and judicial systems. Depriving children of their liberty should be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time period, yet somewhere between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are detained and prosecuted every year.

It is not clear what the current Palestinian juvenile conviction rate is in Israeli military courts. However, it is most distressing to learn that, according to a 2014 United States State Department report, Israeli military courts have a conviction rate of more than 99 per cent for all Palestinians. One can conclude that the juvenile conviction rate is at least very high.

The Israeli juvenile military court hears all ordinary proceedings concerning children. However, those critical issues relating to the detention of young children, such as remand hearings and bail applications, can instead be heard in the military courts used for adults. The reason that this is a problem is that the judges in adult military courts are not required to have any special training or understanding of any of this special vulnerability that children face in going through a justice system.

The concern is further compounded in instances where the Israeli adult military court mistakenly tries a minor. Even if the court later realises its mistake, that court can choose to continue to hear the case as is, as if it were a military juvenile court again, regardless of whether or not the judge has any special training to conduct such matters or any particular understanding of the vulnerability children may face.

It must be recognised that these issues are not just technical legal concerns. They cause real problems in how long children end up being deprived of their liberty, and under what conditions. The majority of Palestinian children prosecuted by Israel are charged with throwing stones. Throwing a stone with the intent to harm a person or property carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. A child aged between 10 and 13 can receive a maximum sentence of six months, but a child between 14 and 15 can receive a maximum penalty of 10 years. Throwing a stone at a moving vehicle with the intent to harm a vehicle or a person carries a maximum penalty of 20 years. Thus, a 14 or 15-year-old Palestinian child could be caught throwing a stone at a moving tank and, as long as they had the intention of damaging the tank, they could theoretically end up with a 20-year sentence.

No-one is claiming that throwing rocks at tanks is behaviour that should be blindly tolerated. But the possibility exists that, as a result, a Palestinian child could end up with a 20-year sentence in prison, which is utterly disproportionate to the nature of the original behaviour. It is shameful that this possibility exists within a modern democracy such as Israel. I call on our government to implore the Israeli government to dramatically and drastically reform their system of juvenile military courts. We must communicate these concerns, as a matter of urgency.

Debate adjourned.