THE RIGHTS OF PALESTINIAN CHILDREN - Senate Adjournment Speech, 12 February 2018
I rise tonight to talk about the rights of children in detention and, in particular, to talk about a very valiant young girl, a young girl whose courage in defence of her family and freedom has struck a chord with people around the world calling for justice. The young girl I speak of is a 16-year-old Palestinian girl. Her name is Ahed Tamimi. She should be in high school. She wants to become a lawyer, but instead she's imprisoned in an Israeli jail. Ahed is in prison because she slapped a heavily armed Israeli soldier.
Last year on 15 December, Ahed's 15-year-old cousin was shot in the face with a rubber-coated metal bullet fired from very close range by the Israeli occupation army. The little boy is recovering, very slowly, but some of his skull bones, which were removed in surgery, won't be returned to their place for another six months. This was a result of a protest in the Palestinian village of Nabi Salih, near Ramallah. Soldiers trespassed into a house owned by Ahed's family in a village under Israeli occupation. Ahed was deeply disturbed and upset by what happened to her little cousin. She was so upset that in her anger she slapped a soldier from the same unit when they returned to their family home an hour later. A family member managed to film the incident, and since then it swiftly went viral around the world on social media.
Four days later during the night, on 19 December last year, Ahed, her mother and her cousin were taken from their home by Israeli soldiers and dragged in front of an Israeli military court. Israeli military courts deal exclusively with Palestinian prisoners. In 2010 the system self-reported a conviction rate of 99.74 per cent. They are charging Ahed with 12 offences—assault, incitement and throwing stones—which could carry a sentence of 12 years in prison. She remains in prison now. The judge has refused her bail, so Ahed could spend months or even years behind bars before getting a fair trial.
As the Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of UNICEF, I am brought to the edge of despair, frustration and anger when I read about the suffering of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli security forces. An Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy, wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on New Year's Eve:
'… what would you have felt if soldiers from a foreign army had invaded your home at night, kidnapped your daughter from her bed before your very eyes, handcuffed and arrested her for a lengthy period, simply because she slapped the soldier who invaded her home …'
I also support the statement by Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees, from the University of Sydney, that, even if Israelis' cruelty to Ahed is 'perceived in Australia as no different from Minister Dutton's cruelty towards asylum seekers and refugees, the general issue of Israeli justice and the future for Palestinians merits attention.' Indeed it does merit our attention.
According to Defence for Children International, Israel
brings 500 to 700 Palestinian children before military courts each year. Some
are as young as 12. It imprisons an average of 200 children in any given
period. In fact, groups like UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, B'Tselem, Amnesty
International and Defence for Children International all agree that three out
of every four Palestinian children arrested by the Israeli army experience
violence during their arrest or their interrogation. They are frequently
arrested in raids at night on their homes. Eighty-five per cent of arrested
Palestinian children were blindfolded, and 95 per cent were handcuffed. The
2013 UNICEF report Children in Israeli military detention concluded:
Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized.
These are practices in violation of international law that protects all children against ill-treatment when in contact with law enforcement, military and judicial institutions. According to a letter her father wrote to the Israeli newspaper, Ahed Tamimi belongs to the second generation of Palestinian children under occupation who have known only a life of checkpoints, identity papers, detentions, house demolitions, intimidation, humiliation and violence.
I do not believe that this particular child's act of courage and defiance in the face of over 50 years of illegal occupation justifies her continuing detention. I believe Ahed Tamimi's real crime in the eyes of Israel has been to shame that country's illegal occupation of Palestine and her point-blank refusal to accept or bow down to that 50-year-old occupation and the guns that come with it.
I add my voice in this parliament to the global outrage about the imprisonment of children, Palestinian children, in Israeli prisons. I note with disappointment that there has been silence of the Australian government about this, whether it be to decry the unjust imprisonment of a young girl or protest against the thuggish comments made about her by some in the Israeli government. Even if the politics on this are hard, Australia must raise its voice. What sort of friend to Israel are we if we look away and ignore what we feel are transgressions? Around the world, it is generally accepted that the biggest hurdle in the peace process is the ongoing construction of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
But now Australia has an opportunity with its new membership of the UN Human Rights Council. We have a commitment to protect and advance human rights, and we must live up to that commitment wherever human rights are being abused, be it in an adversary like North Korea or in an ally like Israel. In the words of French academics and intellectuals who two weeks ago wrote an open letter to Le Monde about the plight of Ahed Tamimi and the 360 Palestinian child prisoners in Israeli prisons, we cannot look away while children are illegally detained far from their families. I wish to thank those international organisations, non-government organisations and academics that have been reporting on this, including UNICEF, Amnesty International Australia and B'Tselem. I thank them for their defence of Palestinian children and their human rights, and for their defence all of those living either in Israeli prisons or under Israeli occupation.
Ahed's act of defiance in the face of ongoing Israeli occupation does not justify her ongoing detention, so I call on the Israeli Prime Minister to release her. There is no reason for her to be held like this. She was taken away for, yes, slapping an armed officer after an Israeli soldier shot her little cousin in the face. Why are they not focusing on the shooting of a minor by Israeli soldiers? I say to Ahed and all of the children wrongly held in Israeli military jails that I stand with so many in the international community for your freedom and for an end to practices that violate children's rights. Children should not be wrongly detained, whether it be in Israel or anywhere else in the world, as we have to uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child.