It sounds like a small thing – the removal within 24 hours of a House of Lord’s Library briefing. But given that it heralded a debate about the living conditions of Palestinian children, Lord Warner’s request for an explanation seems reasonable. He began with a quotation: “Israeli thinkers have right from the beginning judged that the injustice to the Palestinians perpetrated by the establishment of their state can never in truth be rectified for those who were displaced.”
And so hundreds of children have been shot and killed in three invasions of Gaza in the past six years; thousands injured and scores maimed for life in “a groundhog day of perpetual misery in an environment that the United Nations has predicted will be uninhabitable by 2020.” In the West Bank illegal settlements swell while Palestinian homes are demolished.
On 30 April this year, 414 Palestinian children were in a military prison, with 48% of them held in Israel, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Military Court Watch says that the number of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces has risen by 156% since September 2015. Many of these children are beaten and held in unsafe and abusive conditions, without access to parents or lawyers. Most of them are arrested for throwing stones—an offence that under Military Order 1651 carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, or 20 years if the stone is thrown at a moving vehicle. Usually, however, they will be in custody for about four months. If not detained at the scene of the offence, they will have been picked up later, often during a terrifying raid on their family home by Israeli soldiers in the middle of the night.
Baroness Tonge said:
It is no good making comparisons with what happens in other countries; we expect a high standard from Israel…Recently an 11 year-old Palestinian boy was helping to gather in the family’s sheep from their grazing area near the Gaza border fence when Israeli soldiers approached on the other side and started firing at him. He was shot in the groin and started to bleed heavily. He was left for three hours—watched, but not assisted in any way, by the soldiers. He was eventually retrieved by his family and taken to hospital, where he had to have both his testicles removed and was in intensive care for several days, his life ruined. I was informed of another shooting by Israeli soldiers of boys playing football, some time ago, again near the fence. The boys received injuries to their feet and legs and will never play football again. They are good shots, the soldiers in the IDF: they aim very well.
In a two-month period – March to May this year- eight children and a pregnant woman were killed, and 146 Palestinian children and three Israeli children were injured. There were 736 military incursions into the West Bank and 19 into Gaza, and 114 children were arrested in the middle of the night, blindfolded and taken away to be held under appalling conditions described by British lawyers.
Baroness Tonge noted British taxpayers are paying to keep law and order in the territory that Israel occupies.
That fact alone needs a separate debate. Why do we pay for this? Why is Israel not paying for its occupation?…Nobody does anything about Israel’s flagrant breaking of international law and the Geneva Convention, or its total lack of respect for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel signed, by the way, in 1991…The great danger for Israel is that by treating children in this way, she is creating a generation of terrorists who will have a justified grudge against Israel and the countries who support her—beware. This cannot be allowed to go on. Whatever the situation we are in with the USA and the EU, we have been mainly responsible since the Balfour Declaration in 1917. It clearly stated, when Israel was created, that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
Meanwhile the 80-strong Palestine Youth Orchestra (which cannot rehearse together at home) has arrived in Britain. The first concert is in Perth on Monday, followed by performances in Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham and Cardiff. The tour ends with a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 1 August conducted by Sian Edwards. The orchestra will play Beethoven, Mussorgsky, new British music by Graham Fitkin and Arabic songs featuring soloist Nai Barghouti.
Lord Cope of Berkeley has helped the Palestine Music Conservatory arrange the visit.
Given the background of their lives, imagine what inspiration a tour such as this can bring into these young lives and those who hear them. Appreciate, too, the depth of enthusiasm and dedication and the endless practice required for years to reach the required standard. Music opens hearts, as I said, but not quite all hearts. Two 15 year-old students of the Gaza Music School passed auditions to join the tour, necessarily by Skype, as it is the only way they can do it. We got them visas for the UK, but they were refused permission to leave Gaza for the two weeks of the tour by the Israeli occupying power. I was told it sometimes gives permission to leave for medical or educational reasons but that participation in the tour was insufficient reason. What a blind counterproductive cruelty that is…That one small act, or rather refusal, illustrates the monster prison camp that Gaza has become for adults and children alike.