Palestinian Child Prisoners


Yesterday I returned from a five day delegation to Israel and Palestine with my colleagues Ian Lavery, Grahame Morris and Sandra Osborne. This delegation included a visit to a military court where we were able to observe the detention of Palestinian children and see first-hand some of their hearings taking place and the treatment they had to undergo – for instance, being required to wear leg shackles in court.

I have been to the area many times and seen aspects of the occupation and its impact on the lives of Palestinians that I can only describe as Kafkaesque. Having been there so many times, I thought that the area had lost its capacity to shock me. I had read reports by Defence for Children International and other non-governmental organisations about the treatment of child prisoners in Israeli jails, and I had read United Nations reports about the use of detention, but as it is a part of the world in which facts are often the subject of dispute and counter-dispute, I thought that the chance to go to a military prison and court would be valuable, so I could see with my own eyes what happens.

When I saw the military court and what went on there, I knew that the area still had the capacity to shock me, with a vengeance. When I saw children come into the room – it would be over-egging it to describe it as a courtroom in the way that most of us would understand the term – shuffling because their legs are shackled together, and with their hands in handcuffs, it hit me. It hit me even more to be told by an observer, a brave Israeli woman who monitors what goes on in such courtrooms week in, week out, that what we saw was better than normal. The children came in handcuffed with their hands in front of them, but all too often their hands are cuffed behind their backs.

It hit me when I saw the look on the face of a child who only wanted to see his mother, who had come to the court to see her child, probably for the first time since he was arrested in the middle of the night. There were two ranks of chairs in the spectators’ gallery, and we happened to be in the front row. There were not enough seats, and some parents sat in the row behind us. When some of my colleagues offered to give up their seats to the parents so they could be a bit closer to their children, they were told by the security guard that it was not allowed and that the Palestinian parents had to sit in the second rank. When one sees such things for oneself, one cannot ignore it and say, “Well, this is just something to do with the political situation there.” It is totally unacceptable.

Along with Ian Lavery and Grahame Morris, I raised this issue in a House of Commons debate this morning secured by Sandra Osborne on ‘The detention of Palestinian children and the human rights situation in the West Bank’. You can read the debate online here.


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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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