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Britain needs watch-list of Israeli 'war criminals', says Labour MP

    Sarah Champion, Rotherham MP
    Sarah Champion, Rotherham MP

    The government must set up a “watchlist” of Israelis who have committed war crimes by detaining and interrogating Palestinian children, a Labour MP has claimed.

    Sarah Champion said the Israeli Defence Forces were guilty of "mass intimidation and collective punishment" of Palestinians in order to protect Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

    Leading a debate on the issue in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, the Rotherham MP called for a list of “all known war crime suspects” who attempt to enter Britain.

    Ms Champion said: "The issue of transferring detainees en masse from occupied territory is a standalone issue because it is a war crime. It requires decisive action in accordance with our international legal obligations.”

    She described instances of Palestinian minors being detained with plastic hand ties, blindfolds, and hoods while being arrested at night and forced to sign documents in Hebrew.

    Anti-Israel 'incitement dolls' seized by Israeli customs‏ last month
    Anti-Israel 'incitement dolls' seized by Israeli customs‏ last month

    Ms Champion said there had been “atrocities on both sides” and called for the investigation of what she said were war crimes that could destabilise the international order.

    Conservative MPs Andrew Percy and John Howell led the response to Ms Champion’s claims. Mr Howell said investigations by Israeli officers were often conducted in Arabic, with an appeals process, and that minors brought before courts were represented by lawyers of their choosing.

    The allegations against Israel were “an unfair selection”, Mr Howell said. “We should be drawing our attention to the Saudi execution of minors.”

    Mr Percy brandished a soft toy described as an “incitement doll” used to encourage Palestinian children to oppose Israel. Around 4,000 of the dolls had been intercepted by Israeli authorities last month.

    He also read from a Palestinian school textbook which included sections warning children about “robbing Jews”. The use of such material amounted to child abuse by the Palestinian authorities, Mr Percy said.

    Labour’s Ian Austin pointed out that Palestinian television promoted antisemitism in children’s programmes, citing it as an example of incitement.

    Mr Austin also highlighted the murder of four-year-old Israel Adele Biton, who died following a stone-throwing attack last February, after his colleague Louise Ellman warned that acts of violence carried out by Palestinian children could have serious consequences.

    More than a dozen MPs from a number of parties spoke in the fractious 90-minute session, with a series of rows seeing Conservative MPs disagreeing with each other and Labour members attacking the stance of politicians from their own party as well.

    Bob Stewart, a former British Army officer and now Tory MP, likened Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children to what he saw while commanding United Nations forces in Bosnia during the Balkans conflict of the 1990s.

    Green MP Caroline Lucas called for the European Union to suspend its deals with Israel over the treatment of young detainees.

    Diana Johnson, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Office minister, called on the government to do more to hold Israel to account. She said there should be a renewed effort to make the country adhere to around 40 recommendations made in the Children in Military Custody report published by British lawyers four years ago.

    Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood said the government would continue to “support Israel in the challenges it faces”.
    “The level of incitement is certainly worrying,” he said, “but that should not prevent us from working with Israel and being critical of Israel on these points.”

    Mr Ellwood called on Israeli authorities to ensure child detainees had earlier access to lawyers and were allowed to have parents present during detention and interrogation.

    In a statement, the Israeli embassy in London said: “The State of Israel attaches great importance to strengthening and promoting the protection granted to minors in the military justice system, while simultaneously taking into consideration the unique circumstances and the security situation in the West Bank.”

    It said 40 children had taken part in terror attacks against Israelis during the current spate of violence.

    Ms Champion visited the Palestinian territories last September as part of a Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) delegation. After returning to Britain she was forced to correct a series of tweets and an article she had written which contained inaccuracies about Palestinians obtaining supplies in Gaza.

    In response to the debate, the Board of Deputies said it was concerned by the content and tone of a number of speakers.

    A spokesman said: "Constant reference was made to the position of those aged 12-17 who are being detained by the Israeli authorities was made, often without context.

    "The repeated description of them as ‘children’ was misleading, troubling and appears designed to minimise their responsibility for their own deliberate acts.

    "They are more accurately described as juveniles who have been detained following allegations of serious crimes of violence. Israel, like the UK, has special juvenile courts and detention centres for under 18 year olds who are accused of serious criminal activity.

    "Sadly a number of horrific attacks against Israeli citizens have been carried out by in the past few months by under 18 year olds, often against the backdrop of incessant incitement from the Palestinian Authority and other groups within Palestinian society.”

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