19 March 2017

by Cllr Joe Costello

Speaking at the Third International Conference for Child Detainees in Ramallah, Palestine on the 15th March, 2017, Joe Costello, former Minister for Trade and Development, accused the Israeli Government of flagrant breach of international human rights law and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"No other country in the world deals systemically with children in military courts. Military law and military courts apply only to Palestinian children. Israeli children are exempt from such provisions. Moreover,  an increasing number of children are being held under “administrative detention”, the equivalent of internment without trial.

"Last year a record number of over one thousand children were detained by the Israeli security forces. Ages ranged from 10 to 17 years of age. The vast majority of the offence were for stone throwing. Prosecutions in Israeli military courts have more than a 99% conviction rate. Bail is invariably denied and access to parents and lawyers is limited.  A charge of stone throwing carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three years on conviction and can even carry more penal sentences of up to 20 years imprisonment.   The children are detained in Israeli prisons far from the children’s homes, while their parents have difficulty obtaining necessary permission to enter Israel to visit them.  

"Imprisonment is a sanction of last resort for an adult but is the regular sanction for detained Palestinian children. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Israel, states that detention should be a measure of last resort and that those in custody have a right to dignified treatment in custody, including family contact.  The Convention also highlights the State’s duty to provide non penal measures where appropriate, to treat accused or convicted children with dignity.  The routine imprisonment of Palestinian children causes enormous psychological damage and trauma which often affects children for life and causes a hatred of all things Israeli and Jewish. The Conference heard testimonies of child detainees who were subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, tantamount to torture. 

"Israel’s inhumane child detention policy is implemented with total impunity. Only Red Cross personnel are allowed to visit and they are subject to confidentiality and are prohibited from reporting publicly on conditions in detention .

"The international community have a responsibility to act. Ireland which has always championed the Palestinian cause should now become a champion of the Palestinian child detainees and campaign for an end to such unacceptable policies.

"The EU is the main trading partner of Israel. The EU- Israel Trading Association is based on respect for human rights and democratic principles. Clearly these conditions are not been adhered to by Israel and the Agreement is not been honoured.

"The EU has finally taken action on Settlements.  New EU rules mean that Israel can no longer export Settlement produce as Israeli produce and oblige them to label settlement produce correctly.

"Ireland should raise the issue of Military Courts, Military Law, Administrative Detention and imprisonment of Palestinian children in Israeli jails in the context of continuance of the EU trade Agreement with Israel. The EU should insist on regular monitoring of child detainees by Israel as a condition of maintaining its trade agreement. The monitoring could be carried out by EU Heads of Mission in Ramallah and Tel Aviv who could produce an annual report.

"The plight of child detainees in Israeli prisons should be put at the heart of the EU’s relationship with Israel."