An open letter to the Chair of the Israeli Union of Social Workers.
Guy Shennan, Chair of BASW has written an open letter to the Chair of the Israeli Union of Social Workers on the arrest and imprisonment of Munther Amira, the former General Secretary of the Palestinian Union of Social Workers and Psychologists, and the military detention of Palestinian children.
May I begin by congratulating you on your recent election as Chair of the Israeli Union of Social Workers. I hope that you have a successful term of office.
I am writing to you about two related matters, the arrest and imprisonment of Munther Amira, the former General Secretary of the Palestinian Union of Social Workers and Psychologists, and the military detention of Palestinian children. The concerns of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) about these matters are detailed in our statement of 15th March. We also support the position of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), as set out in their statements on the situation of Palestinian child prisoners, and on the arrest of Munther Amira.
I am writing on behalf of BASW, as fellow members of IFSW, on what we believe to be matters of importance to the whole international community of social workers. We believe we all have a duty, as social workers, to speak up on behalf of Palestinian children when their human rights are violated, and to call for them to be treated according to international norms, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). We also believe that you are in a unique position, as social workers in Israel, to be able to advocate for the rights of Palestinian children to the relevant authorities in your country.
There is a large amount of evidence that the treatment of Palestinian children by the Israeli military breaches their human rights. In 2011, a delegation of British lawyers visited Israel and the West Bank to investigate how Palestinian children were affected by Israeli military law and practice and they published their findings in 2012. They found that Israel treated Palestinian and Israeli children differently and was in breach of a number of articles of the UNCRC. Their recommendations included that military law and public administration should deal with Palestinian children on an equal footing with Israeli children.
This was followed in 2013 by the UNICEF report, Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations, which concluded that ‘the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process’. Immediately following the publication of this report, some developments were set in train, but these appear to have stalled.
A U.S. government human rights report published in March 2017 highlighted reports from Military Court Watch (MCW) that there had been little substantive improvement since the publication of the UNICEF report. Data from more than 400 detainee testimonials collected by MCW between 2013 and 2016 ‘tended to confirm UNICEF’s conclusion that the mistreatment of child detainees was widespread’. In 2017, MCW reported that of UNICEF's 38 recommendations only one had been substantially implemented. Since 2013, the number of children held in Israeli military detention has increased by 49 percent and reports of physical abuse have risen.
These findings are greatly concerning to us, and we believe our codes of ethics place a duty on us, as social workers, to do what we can to advocate for the rights of the Palestinian children affected. We note in your comments reported by the IFSW following their statement on 7th January, that you fully support the rights of all juvenile offenders to be accorded treatment appropriate to their age. We hope that you are therefore raising the case of Palestinian children with the relevant authorities in your country. We will be pleased to play our part in any way that will be helpful in bringing international social work pressure to bear.
The second matter concerns the arrest and subsequent sentencing of Munther Amira, for his peaceful participation in a protest calling for the release of Ahed Tamimi, arrested aged 16 in December 2017, and her mother. BASW supports both the IFSW and Amnesty International in calling for his release. Amnesty International have deemed Mr Amira a prisoner of conscience, and their statement following his sentencing can be found here.
Alongside the IFSW, and as members of the international social work community, we ‘support Mr Amira’s commitment to upholding the ethical principles of our profession and demand his immediate release’. We hope too that you will be able to intervene on behalf of Mr Amira, who is being held in prison for exercising his right to free speech and to campaign on behalf of the rights of children.
Chair, British Association of Social Workers