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How many children must suffer before Israel is shamed? Open in fullscreen

Said Arikat

How many children must suffer before Israel is shamed?

How many more must suffer before the UN shames Israel?

Date of publication: 11 June, 2015

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Comment: Under US pressure, the UN omitted Israel from its 'list of shame' of violators of children's rights during conflict. What legitimacy does such a list have, asks Said Arikat.
The UN's secretary general has removed Israel from a report blacklisting countries with a poor record on children in conflict. As with similar reports critical of Israel since assuming his job, Ban Ki-moon bowed to US pressure and de-listed Israel from the "List of Shame" report.

The report, published on Monday, which will also be presented to the UN Security Council later this month, lists state and non-state actors that have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law against children in armed conflicts.

The violations include unlawful killing and maiming, attacks on schools and hospitals, sexual violence, and recruiting children as soldiers.

The UN resolution that established the list in 2009 states the security council's intention "to take action" - including possible sanctions - against those who continue violating international law on the rights and protection of children in armed conflicts.

The report, which dedicates 33 paragraphs to Israel and "the state of Palestine" and to the "grave violations committed against children during armed conflict", cites escalating hostilities in Gaza and a significant increase in tensions in the West Bank, which have "devastating impacts for children".

The report stands, and yet Israel remains off the list of shame.

A shame on your house

The figures are staggering. The report states that 540 Palestinian children were killed and 3,053 injured in Gaza as a result of Israel's war last summer, while one Israeli child was killed by a mortar bomb fired by Hamas from Gaza.

In the West Bank, 13 Palestinian boys and three Israeli youths were killed and 1,218 children, overwhelmingly Palestinians were injured, the report says.

The report  includes groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State group, as well as other groups in Afghanistan, Africa, Asia and the Gulf as well as government forces in Congo, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen.

An initial draft, prepared by Leila Serrougui, the UN's special representative on children and armed conflict, list Israel and Hamas as offenders. The US and Israel pressed Ban and his staff for weeks for its removal.

Most watchers and human rights activists knew before hand that Ban would eventually succumb to US pressure. That has been consistent in his eight years in the job.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), which appears to have gotten a wind of Ban's intention for delisting Israel (and Hamas lest he be presumed unfair), urged him on 3 June not to cave-in to US pressure.

What credibility?

Phillppe Bolopion, the group's crises advocacy director, said Ban could "strengthen child protection in war by compiling his list based on facts, not political pressure" and that doing otherwise hurts the reduces the credibility of the list.

In its letter to Ban, HRW cited the deaths of children from "apparently unlawful" Israeli attacks in Gaza, including the killing of four boys on 16 July near the Gaza City port, the killing of nine civilians including two 15-year-old boys, at a cafe near Khan Yunis on 9 July, and the killing of two children and five of their relatives in an airstrike a day later in the same area.

HRW watch said one of those killed in the latter attack was a member of the Qassam Bridages, but at a low-level, and that the attack was "disproportionate if not indiscriminate".

The group also cited attacks on or near three schools in Gaza housing families seeking shelter from Israel's bombardment. A total of 46 civilians, including 17 children, died in these attacks.

It lists many more in the West Bank.

Ban knows that Israel is serial killer of Palestinian children and has been a repeat offender against their rights for decades.

In his report last year covering 2013, Ban himself cited nearly a dozen cases of Palestinian children killed by Israeli security forces; more than 1,200 Palestinian children injured; and 41 incidents of damage to school facilities, interruption of classes, and injury to students in which Israeli security forces were responsible.

So when Ban urges Israel "to take concrete and immediate steps... to protect children, to prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals", or that "Israel should ensure accountability for perpetrators of alleged violations", he knows that his words ring hollow.

He knows that Israel, shielded by the US, does not even pretend to respect even minimal human rights for Palestinians, children and adults alike.

Looking the other way

Ban is not the only UN secretary general to give Israeli a pass on war crimes against Palestinians. It is almost a criteria for the job. Almost all of his predecessors have looked the other way.

It may seem futile, but one must remind Ban to keep few facts handy for his next report. Under Israeli military law army commanders have full executive, legislative and judicial authority over 2.7 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.

Dual Israeli legal systems operating in the West Bank allows for Palestinians to be prosecuted in military courts, with 99 percent of cases ending in conviction, whereas the small number of Israeli settlers prosecuted are dealt with in civilian courts, with far greater rights and protections.

An Israeli child has the right to have a parent present when questioned by the police in some cases, whereas a Palestinian child questioned under Israeli military law has no such right.

An Israeli child cannot be given a custodial sentence until aged 14 under civilian law, whereas a Palestinian child can be sent to prison at the age of 12 under military law.

More than 1,000 Palestinian children were tried in a military court last year, most commonly for throwing stones. The majority were arrested at night and report physical and psychological abuse during arrest, transfer and interrogation.

About half of Palestinian child prisoners are held in prisons in Israel - a breach of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

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