London (CNSNews.com) – The British government has quietly increased funding for legal and other services for Palestinian minors detained by the Israeli military for carrying out attacks, but its prioritizing of the issue has raised questions from lawmakers arguing that Israel is being singled out.
The issue has become a lightning rod in recent years for the United Nations and other international organizations, which charge that minors’ civil rights are being ignored.
Detained for rock throwing and other attacks against soldiers in the disputed territories, children as young as 12 are reportedly being processed through the military justice system. Advocacy groups such as Military Court Watch claim most are denied access to a lawyer prior to questioning and many are arrested during night raids at home.
Israeli human rights groups said 273 Palestinian minors were in Israeli custody at the end of June.
The Israeli government has argued to media outlets in the past that critics fail to take context into account. Rock throwing has proven deadly at times, and minors’ actions have also included murder, arson, and using Molotov cocktails during attacks.
In a response to a freedom-of-information request, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said recently it spent roughly $110,000 last year “on legal services for Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military.”
For the financial year that started in April, the FCO said it had increased the amount allocated to about $260,000, “but it is likely that only part of this allocation will be spent specifically on legal services.”
The House of Commons has held two debates on the subject since early 2016. In the second, last February, minister of state for the Middle East Alistair Burt said the government sees the issue as a human rights priority and has raised with Israel several times the need to comply with applicable U.N. conventions.
Burt said it was ultimately up to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to prepare their peoples for peaceful co-existence, and to refrain from provocative acts and words.
During the debate, some lawmakers charged that the P.A.’s encouragement of violence among youth was being ignored, and that Israel was being singled out for criticism.
Labor lawmaker Joan Ryan noted that while two debates have been held on Palestinian youths since 2016, none have been held on the many countries around the world where minors are sentenced to death.
Also not debated in parliament, Ryan said, was the fact that, “adjusted for size of population, 5.5 times more minors were arrested in 2015-16 in England and Wales than in the West Bank by Israel.”
The FCO and the Department for International Development send millions of pounds in aid to the Palestinians each year, with money going to medical aid and immunizations, government reform and other areas.
The funding has occasionally proven to be controversial.
In 2016, $30 million in aid meant to go towards P.A. civil servants’ salaries was temporarily suspended over concerns it was instead being sent to prisoners who had carried out attacks on Israel.
Last April, the FCO came under criticism after media outlets reported that $26 million in educational aid was being used in schools that teach children about jihad and martyrdom.