50. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the Israeli ill-treatment of Palestinian children in military detention, highlighted by UNICEF as being widespread, systematic and institutionalised; if he will raise the case of a person (details supplied) with his Israeli counterpart; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 14133/18 asked on 28 Mar 2018)

Deputy Gino Kenny: What is the Tánaiste view on the detention of Palestinian children in apartheid Israeli jails?

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade(Deputy Simon Coveney): I also welcome the delegation. I had the pleasure of having lunch with the Deputy Prime Minister and his delegation yesterday. The relationship between Ireland and Singapore is growing stronger every year, and I thank him for being here.

I am glad the Deputy raised this question. The treatment of Palestinian minors under the Israeli occupation and military justice system has long been an issue of concern for us, which we have discussed here and which the Government has raised with the Israeli authorities and at EU and international level, including statements by Ireland at the UN Human Rights Council. I have expressed these concerns directly to Israeli leaders during my recent visit to the region in January. Despite occasional improvements on specific details, worsening aspects have been accurately tracked in reports such as those by UNICEF recently and Israeli non-govenrmental organisations, NGOs, with whom we have contacts.

For me, the bottom line is that Palestinian children are clearly subject to widespread treatment which Israel would - correctly - consider to be unacceptable for its own children. The case to which the Deputy refers is one which exhibits many issues that concern us. First, there is the way in which protest against the occupation can be criminalised and suppressed. Second, there is the exertion of political pressure in Israel to press the military authorities to take heavy handed and highly publicised action against a Palestinian family who posed no genuine security threat. Third, there is the treatment of Palestinian minors and their families to pressure them to accept plea bargains which then supposedly justify the whole process.

I believe that the Israeli authorities should re-examine these approaches in this case and in others. Until they do so, the image of Israel and the legal system imposed on Palestinians in occupied territory will be gravely impaired.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Since 2002, some 1,200 children have been imprisoned in Israeli jails and currently 350 children are in Israeli jails. Most of these children were prosecuted for simply throwing stones at the occupiers in their towns and villages. These children are subjected to torture, ill treatment and abuse. The conclusion from the UNICEF report Children in Israeli Military Detention is damning of the Israeli prison system. It states:

... the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.

It is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts ...This blatantly goes against the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and international law. Israel is the only country in the world that prosecutes children in military courts.

Did the Tánaiste raise the issue with the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, when he visited Israel in January? Did he raise the case of Ahed Tamimi?

Deputy Simon Coveney: On the Tamimi case, Irish and other EU diplomats attended the hearings in the military court as the case developed. An officer from Ireland’s representative office in Ramallah was present in the court last Thursday when sentencing took place. During my visit to the Middle East in January, I raised directly with Israeli authorities my concerns about the detention of minors, as well as the issues of night-time arrests and blindfolding. I recalled that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child entails obligations to use detention only as a means of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period in the case of minors.

I have raised this particular case and also the general issue of how minors are treated within the occupied territories. It is damaging to Israel’s reputation internationally and that is why it is in everybody’s interest to change the approach. My approach to the issue, as the Deputy knows, is to be blunt and discuss with all sides the issues of occupation and settlements. I will continue to have that conversation with the Israeli authorities and also with the Palestinians.

Deputy Gino Kenny: While that all sounds well and good, most Irish people will ask why we treat Israel like a normal state - like any other state in the EU or across the world. Israel is an abnormal state. It is an apartheid state that detains not only children but also hundreds of thousands of ordinary Palestinians fighting against occupation. There are similarities between apartheid South Africa and apartheid Israel. We should not engage in any trade whatsoever with the state of Israel. Most people in the House probably do not know that we have imported €14.5 million worth of Israeli military goods. That military equipment is being used by the Irish military and it is being used by the Israeli military against Palestinians.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Gino Kenny: While what the Tánaiste said sounds good, he should take action to support his words and ban all Israeli military goods from coming into Ireland in order to show his solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): I thank the Deputy for his co-operation.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Goods that have been imported into Ireland that are linked with military equipment are not being used against Palestinians. They are being used by Irish peacekeepers to protect people in the Middle East, whether it is-----

Deputy Gino Kenny: Does the Tánaiste really believe that?

Deputy Simon Coveney: -----in southern Lebanon or the Golan Heights.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Of course, the Tánaiste knows the truth.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): The Tánaiste without interruption.

Deputy Gino Kenny: He should not insult my intelligence.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Deputy Gino Kenny actually got more than his two minutes and 30 seconds. He is abusing his privilege. I ask him to allow the Tánaiste to answer his question.

Deputy Simon Coveney: I share the Deputy’s concerns on the treatment of Palestinian children and we need to raise those questions directly, without fear or favour. However, I do not accept the Deputy’s approach, which is to simply try to shut out Israel. There is a context here that is different from many other parts of the world. Israel’s history is very complex. There are genuine security issues and concerns for the Israeli Government.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): I thank the Tánaiste.

Deputy Simon Coveney: However, that does not excuse inappropriate behaviour and the totally inappropriate treatment of Palestinian children in the occupied territories for which Israel has responsibility. Our approach is different here.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): I thank the Tánaiste.

Deputy Simon Coveney: My approach is through dialogue and politics; the Deputy’s approach seems to be through-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Sorry, we are way over time.

Deputy Simon Coveney: -----protest and little else.

Deputy Gino Kenny: What about expelling Israelis?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): If everybody co-operates, we will be able to deal with two more questions.