A recent ten day visit to Israel and Palestine has provoked considerable personal turmoil having listened to the witness accounts by representatives of remarkably courageous organisations working to support and advocate on behalf of the Palestinian people - accounts of the human rights abuses meted out on Palestinians by the Israeli Government.
The context of my trip was joining a group from the parish of St Philip and St James in Cheltenham who were on a pilgrimage to Israel and the West Bank - including Ramallah where they have a partnership with the Christian church of St Andrew’s.
Thus the journey was part pilgrimage to the extraordinary Holy sites of the Sea of Gallilee, the Baptismal site on the river Jordan, Capernaum, Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, Bethlehem, Nazareth - joined by hundreds of fellow pilgrims from, it seemed, every country in the world. It was also part political, particularly during three days spent in Ramallah on the West Bank, in the sense of learning about the political context in which people were living.
Of the witness accounts we heard of human rights abuses meted out by the Israeli Government against the Palestinians the two most shocking were:
- the evidence of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) a group opposed to Israeli settlements, which describes itself as "an Israeli peace and human rights organization dedicated to ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories and achieving a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians".
- the remarkable Military Court Watch which collects the evidence and monitors the appalling treatment of children in villages on the West Bank which are close to the illegal Israeli settlements.
Children as young as 10 are seized at gunpoint from their beds in the middle of the night, the door to their homes having been either quietly opened or blown open by explosives. They are then accused verbally, but with no evidence, of having thrown stones. They then spend up to two or three years in prison with no charges against them, without access to legal representation and no cctv to monitor their treatment.
They are often blindfolded, deliberately sleep deprived and underfed and told “all your friends have confessed and have been released”.
The communities from which the children have come are charged a fee for the 'Military Courts' at which the children appear and are accused.
These children and their mothers are left with serious mental health problems as a result of the treatment they have received.
On my return home, I was told that an Early Day Motion 563 had been put forward in Parliament which reads:
”That this House notes with concern that hundreds of Palestinian children continue to be arrested, detained and tried in Israeli military courts, despite the practice involving widespread and systematic violations of international law and being widely condemned; further notes that allegations of ill-treatment at the hands of Israeli authorities include blindfolding, physical violence and arrest at night; notes the disparity between the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian children by Israeli authorities and calls for those authorities to treat Palestinian children in a way that is not inferior to the way they would any Israeli child; notes that, as the occupying power in the West Bank, Israel has a responsibility under international human rights conventions for the safety, welfare and human rights protection of Palestinian children living under occupation; notes with concern that the recommendations of Unicef's 2013 Children in Israeli Military Detention Report remain largely unmet; and urges the Government to urgently engage with the Government of Israel to end the widespread and systemic human rights violations suffered by Palestinian children in Israeli military custody”.
It seems highly significant that at the time of writing there have been 65 signatures to this Early Day Motion from MPs of which only three are signatures of Conservative members.
In asking oneself “Why?”, given the overwhelming evidence of human rights abuse of children by the Israeli military, one can only come to the conclusion that the Jewish lobby is so strong and so supportive of the Conservative Party, not least financially, that MPs of that persuasion are loathe to “rock the boat”.
And of course there is the concern that one will be branded anti-Semitic when this has got nothing to do with anti-Semitism, but everything to do with justice and peace in the world.