Everyone deserves the right to be treated with dignity and fairness, protected from violence and fear. Our children deserve that most of all. These rights are enshrined in the UN convention on the rights of the child, which celebrated its 29th anniversary last week.
Yet for too many Palestinian children, those rights have been taken from them by the cruel and callous actions of the Israeli government.
This morning I was at 10 Downing Street, standing alongside friends from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, to demand that Theresa May take action to end to the mistreatment of Palestinian children under Israeli military detention, and for the rights of children to be upheld in accordance with international law.
Palestinians in the West Bank live under Israeli military law; orders that have been issued by army generals since 1967. Alleged crimes – from traffic offences to building without a permit – are tried in a military court, by a military judge. Conviction rates are unbelievably high – over 99% – including for children.
Israel is the only country in the world to systematically prosecute children in military courts. Every year between 500-700 Palestinian children are arrested and prosecuted by the Israeli military. They face ill-treatment from the time of their arrest to their conviction and sentencing. Children as young as 12 are regularly taken from their homes at gunpoint by soldiers in the middle of the night, with little or no explanation to their parents of their alleged crime, or where they are being taken. They can be blindfolded, bound and shackled, locked in solitary confinement, and even interrogated without the presence of a lawyer or family member.
In June delegates at UNISON’s National Delegate Conference had a moving debate and unanimously passed policy calling on the Israeli government to end the abhorrent practice of military detention for children. Since then our international committee have developed a whole new programme of work with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) to take forward our plans, including lobbies of Parliament, an exhibition, petitions and a speaker tour.
Only yesterday, UNISON members and PSC activists were in Parliament meeting their MPs and demanding justice and rights for Palestinian children. Their call was simple; the Israeli government should comply with the UN convention on the rights of the child, and treat children prosecuted for an alleged offence in accordance with international juvenile justice standards.
For UNISON, children’s rights matter. Hundreds of thousands of our members have the enormous responsibility for the care and protection of children, whether they work in health, justice, education or many other services, or are parents, grandparents or carers. And as an internationalist union we have an obligation to speak out in solidarity with the vulnerable and oppressed when their rights are denied.
I’m proud that UNISON is campaigning against the mistreatment of Palestinian child prisoners. I hope you will stand with us as we demand that the UK government speak out and take action to end this gross denial of international law and children’s rights. And we will not stop until the reprehensible and self-defeating punishment of Palestinian children by the Israeli state ends once and for all.