The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a tender two weeks ago for organizations interested in developing projects working toward the “protection of human rights of Palestinian minors in Israeli detention.”The move raised eyebrows in Jerusalem because of a concern that Israel was being singled out for arresting minors, as Britain was not expending similar funds on projects aimed at guaranteeing the rights of underage detainees in the Palestinian Authority, the Gaza Strip or other countries around the world and was not looking for project proposals dealing with the abuse of Palestinian minors by Hamas, such as using them as civilian shields or to build attack tunnels to infiltrate Israel.“The British Embassy in Israel and British Consulate General in Jerusalem are accepting concept notes for our program fund,” reads the publication of the call for project proposals that appears on the British government’s official website.According to the website, projects are being sought from “civil society, commercial organizations, governments, think tanks [and] other UK government departments and international organizations” that will “work with Israeli and Palestinian stakeholders to effect change in one of the following areas: 1. Protection of human rights of Palestinian minors in Israeli detention. 2. Engaging with the Israeli authorities on improving Gaza movement and access.”Although Israeli diplomatic officials declined to respond to the call for project proposals, Jerusalem is used to dealing with questions regarding Palestinian minors in detention.The country’s arguments are generally that these efforts on behalf of the minors fail to take into account the context of their detention. For instance, it was five Palestinian minors who threw the rocks that struck the car carrying three-year-old Adele Biton in February 2013 on the road from Yakir to Tel Aviv. She died of her injuries two years later. This, Israeli diplomats often point out, is not the only example of Palestinian minors involved in fatal attacks.
The diplomats have also argued that “minors are not innocent by virtue of simply being minors,” that neither the dangerous nature of rock-throwing nor the murderous intent of some Palestinian minors should be downplayed and that rock throwing has caused numerous deaths. The Jerusalem Post sent the British Embassy a number of questions regarding the call for project proposals on this matter, including: Are minors in detention a priority for the Foreign Office only when they are detained by Israel?; are there any funds dedicated to looking into the Palestinian Authority detaining minors?; are there funds dedicated to looking into Hamas abusing minors (widely documented, digging tunnels, human shields, etc)?; and are there similar programs in other countries relating to treatment of minors in detention?The embassy provided the following response: “The UK government is clear on the need to work with the Israeli authorities to constructively address concerns about the treatment of Palestinian minors in detention. We welcome Israel’s focus on the particular needs of this more vulnerable category of detainees, for example its establishment of separate juvenile military courts.“The embassy’s recent call for bids for projects represents our intention to continue working with Israel to encourage further improvements. This engagement is part of the UK’s wider work on the subject of minors and human rights around the world, as outlined in our annual human rights report. This work also includes advising and assisting the PASF [Palestinian Authority security forces] on developing a training curriculum related to human rights.”
Funeral of four-year-old Adele Biton (Video: Tovah Lazaroff)