Has the UN stopped caring about Palestinian children?
by Entsar Abu Jahal, reposted from Al-Monitor
During the United Nations Security Council’s meeting on children and armed conflicts Aug. 2, the world body failed to include Israel on its "list of shame" — which includes countries committing dire abuses against children — despite figures and statistics mentioned in the June report of the Office of the UN Secretary-General on promoting and defending the rights of children in armed conflict zones.
The report said that 2018 witnessed the highest rate of killing and wounding of children since 2014 in the Palestinian territories; it stated that 59 Palestinian children were killed and 2,756 were wounded that year. The report noted that the Israeli army and settlers were responsible for violence against children in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
According to the report, 203 children were detained in Israeli prisons, and most of them are under administrative arrest, without trial. Until the end of December 2018, according to the report, 87 children remained in Israeli prisons based on a judicial order and are facing tough detention conditions.
Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, who attended the Aug. 2 UNSC meeting, was disgruntled and shocked that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres did not include Israel on the list of shame. Speaking before the Security Council, he said Israel’s ongoing unethical and inhumane practices are due to the fact that it enjoys international immunity that protects it from sanctions and accountability.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, condemned Aug. 4 the UN move to keep Israel off the list for its abuses against Palestinian children. Hamas demanded the UN to incriminate Israel in international courts, as per international law and to put an end to its serious violations.
On Aug. 1, the Israeli army had summoned an 8-year-old girl from Hebron in the West Bank for questioning, based on the accusation of “harassing settlers.” A day earlier, it had summoned two boys, ages 4 and 6, for questioning in Jerusalem, under the pretext of throwing stones and a small juice carton at Israeli soldiers. This sparked a wave of public discontent and anger.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, spokesman for the Palestinian government Ibrahim Melhem condemned the Israeli abuses and violations against children and Israel’s justifications that breach international laws and child protection laws.
He mentioned the Aug. 15 killing of two 14-year-olds by the Israeli army near Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, saying, “They should have arrested the [Palestinian youths] and investigated with them instead of killing them.”
Melhem said that the government included the issue of Israel's violations against Palestinian children in the report that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigrants submitted to the International Criminal Court. He noted that the government is keeping track of these breaches to show the world the magnitude of Israel's violations against children under the age of 5.
He added that the government referred Israel’s summoning of children to international organizations that condemned these practices, noting, “The government followed up with international rights organizations that defend children’s affairs to fill them in on the constant abuses in the Palestinian territories, including killing, torture, arrest and summoning.”
Ayed al-Aktash, director of the Accountability Program at the Defense for Children International – Palestine, told Al-Monitor that the violations are taking place in light of a lack of international accountability. He said that over the past 10 years, only once was an Israeli soldier punished for killing a Palestinian child. However, he added, the soldier’s punishment was not commensurate with the act he committed, as he was incarcerated for four months only.
Aktash noted that Israel does not disclose its army’s arrests and summons, but the organization estimates the number of arrests, military prosecutions and summons of Palestinian children at 500-700 per year. In addition, he said, children in Israeli detention centers are subject to physical and psychological abuse and torture.
He said that Israel's abuse of children is on the rise in light of the tense political situation. Since the outbreak of the popular unrest in 2015, there has been an increase of physical and psychological abuses against Palestinian children, affecting their social life, education and playtime.
Aktash added, “In some Palestinian areas close to Israeli settlements, children drop out of school due to parents’ fear of abuses against their children from settlers and the Israeli army.”
He argued that curbing the abuse depends on how the international community politically deals with Israel. Criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children is no longer enough, as Israel has adapted to the criticism. “The international community should put in place practical measures to punish Israel by imposing economic and political sanctions, as Israel has signed most international agreements and covenants,” he said.
Spokesman for the Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies Riyad al-Ashkar told Al-Monitor that Israel’s targeting of Palestinian children has been ongoing since 1967, as thousands of Palestinian children have been locked up in Israeli prisons serving varying sentences. He said that at least three wings are reserved for children in Ofer, Damon and Majdo prisons.
He said that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is slackening in regard to the child abuse issue and in referring it to international courts as per the related agreements it has recently joined. He believes the PA does not have the political will on that level, since it is afraid of completely severing ties with Israel.
“This is a fair humanitarian cause. Our rights are clear according to international law,” he said.
Independent political analyst Talal Okal told Al-Monitor, “The United States is manipulating the UN as it vetos any resolution [condemning] Israel. The documented data submitted to the UN show that Israel must be first on the list of shame.”
Okal denied the PA’s slackening in this issue, especially since the media, activists and foreign supporters, not to mention UN delegates to the Palestinian territories, are reporting the truth. “The PA is using all media outlets and international opinion to keep this issue on the agenda,” he concluded.
Entsar Abu Jahal is a Palestinian journalist covering current events. She is currently pursuing a master's in journalism and works with several local and Arab journals, as well as various local stations.