How Many More Children Will Lose Their Rights Before the UK Places Sanctions on Israel?

The recent arrest of two Palestinian children by Israeli forces has made clear some fundamental truths, not only about the brutal nature of Israel's continued occupation and colonisation of Palestine, but also of its increasing failure to control the narrative about its actions.

Ahed Tamini is a 16-year-old Palestinian girl who lives in the occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. She was arrested on December 21 after a video showing her slapping an IDF soldier who had unlawfully tried to enter the family property went viral.

Her arrest followed the standard procedure employed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF): Ahed's family home was raided at 3 am by at least fifteen heavily armed soldiers. She was handcuffed and put inside a military vehicle, and her parents were prevented from accompanying her.

Ahed's mother, Nariman, cousin, Nour, and father, Bassem, were also subsequently arrested. Bassem, what Amnesty International defines as a "Prisoner of Conscience", has been arrested at least 11 times and spent approximately three years in Israeli administrative detention without charge or trial.

Ahed's fearless defense of her rights has outraged a large number of Israelis who perceive this, and her previous resistance to IDF soldiers, as a humiliation of their troops. This has translated into strident calls for action across the Israeli political mainstream. In a radio interview, Education Minster Naftali Bennet said that Ahed and her similarly-aged friends in the video should end their days in jail.

Another video went viral recently, when retired England footballer and pundit Gary Lineker OBE shared footage by Israeli NGO B'Tselem, which shows a Palestinian child being violently detained and put in a cage with other Palestinian children by the IDF. Describing the video, Lineker used only one word: "Sickening."

Lineker's retweet brought this video to mainstream attention and also provoked Israel's propaganda, or "hasbara", machine into overdrive. Lineker was besieged by tweets from Israeli official spokespersons to pro-Israel groups across the UK, who at best described him as naïve and uninformed, and a victim of Palestinian propaganda, at worst as malevolent and anti-Semitic.

Claiming that soldiers are provoked by children throwing stones, one tweet asked Lineker "what would you do?"

"Treat them like humans," replied Lineker, and promptly followed DCI Palestine on Twitter.

Both these incidents reveal Israel's fundamental problem in trying to control the narrative as the reality of the nature of its programme of occupation and colonisation becomes transparent in the social media age.

The reality behind each of these incidents is clear. Israel is maintaining a crippling fifty-year occupation over a people who choose not to be occupied and choose to resist that occupation. Social media is exposing this reality in a way that Israel cannot control.

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In the two weeks since U.S. President Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Israeli forces have arrested over 450 Palestinians inside the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Half of these are children, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Commission.

Those seeking to defend the actions of the IDF exposed in the recent videos have claimed that the videos show soldiers exercising restraint in the face of provocation. In fact, Israel routinely uses lethal force against Palestinians. Btselm identified over 1,500 Palestinian civilians killed between 2009 and 2017. In the same period Israeli security forces killed 711 children. Very few of these killings result in prosecution.

An Amnesty report published in 2015 provided comprehensive evidence of state support for illegal killings and stated that "Israel's investigation systems have long served to perpetuate impunity for unlawful killings of Palestinians by Israeli military and police forces."

As the Ahed Tamimi case hit the headlines, social media was also reacting to the killing of a double amputee Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, on December 16.

He was allegedly shot by an IDF sniper whilst in his wheelchair, waving a Palestinian flag at a protest. An internal investigation conducted within three days found " no moral or professional failure" on the part of the IDF.

By contrast, the rates of conviction of Palestinians brought before Israel's military courts are astounding. In 2011 Yesh Din reported a conviction rate of 99.74 precent.

Additionally, Palestine notes that Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically detains between 500 and 700 Palestinian children every year in a military detention system that is notorious for its systematic torture and ill-treatment of children.

Israel's strategy for controlling the narrative is reduced to believing that when people see images of fully armed soldiers manhandling children and shoving them in cages they will think 'they must have done something to deserve this' rather than reacting as Lineker did and finding the images sickening.

That confronted with the reality of a double amputee being shot in his wheelchair people will ask 'why was he at a protest?' rather than what context can ever justify shooting an unarmed disabled man.

That faced with the image of an unarmed 17-year-old girl slapping a fully armed soldier from an occupying army, people will perceive him as the one whose rights are being abused and not hers.

In other words, their strategy relies on people abandoning all of their appropriate moral reflexes. This is a strategy that must and surely will fail.

But as citizens around the world develop the growing understanding of the nature of Israel's employment of unjust power, the task remains to challenge it.

This requires not just the involvement of concerned citizens in the growing movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), but a response from governments that moves beyond rhetorical condemnation to meaningful action to hold Israel to account.

It is positive that 96 UK MPs have signed an early day motion (EDM) on Palestinian child prisoners, the most popular EDM on a non-domestic issue this Parliament.

What is now required within Parliament is concerted pressure on the British government to place sanctions on Israel, including as a start a ban on the import of all settlements goods. How many more Ahed Tamimis must jeopardise their right to live free lives before we see such action in place?


Ben Jamal is the Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and also a member of the British Palestine Policy Council. Follow him on Twitter.