UN failing to protect Palestinian children
A UN statement released last week, which urged the Israeli government to release Palestinian prisoner Ahmad Manasra, included the words: “We regret we failed to protect you.” Only 14 years old at the time of his arrest and torture by Israeli forces, Manasra is now 20. His case is a representation of Israel’s overall inhumane treatment of Palestinian children.
The UN experts’ statement was forceful and heartfelt. It accused Israel of depriving Manasra “of his childhood, family environment, protection and all the rights he should have been guaranteed as a child.” It referred to the case as “haunting,” considering Manasra’s “deteriorating mental conditions.” The statement went further, declaring that the case “is a stain on all of us as part of the international human rights community.”
Israeli ill treatment of Palestinian children, whether under siege in war-stricken Gaza or under military occupation and apartheid in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, is commonplace. Yet, somehow, Israel continues to be spared a spot on the unflattering list, issued annually by the UN secretary-general, naming and shaming governments and groups that commit grave violations against children and minors anywhere in the world.
Oddly, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ latest report on children and armed conflict does recognize Israel’s horrific record of violating children’s rights in Palestine. It even details some of these violations, which UN workers have directly verified. This includes “2,934 grave violations against 1,208 Palestinian children” in 2021 alone. However, the report equates Israel’s record — one of the most dismal in the world — with that of Palestinians; namely the fact that nine Israeli children were impacted by Palestinian violence in that whole year.
Though the deliberate harming of a single child is regrettable regardless of the circumstances or the perpetrator, it is mind-boggling that Guterres found it appropriate to equate the systematic violations carried out by the Israeli military as a matter of course and the nine Israeli minors harmed by Palestinian armed groups, whether intentionally or not.
To deal with the obvious discrepancy between Palestinian and Israeli child victims, the UN report lumped together all categories to distract from the identity of the perpetrator, thus lessening the focus on Israeli crimes. For example, the report states that a total of 88 children were killed throughout Palestine, of whom 69 were killed in Gaza and 17 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, the report breaks down these murders in such a way that conflates Palestinian and Israeli children, as if purposely trying to confuse the reader. When read carefully, one discovers that all of these killings, bar two, were carried out by Israeli forces.
Somehow, Israel continues to be spared a spot on the list naming and shaming governments and groups that commit grave violations against children.
The report uses the same logic to break down the number of children maimed in the conflict, even though, of the 1,128 victims, only seven were Israeli. Of the remainder, 661 were maimed in Gaza and 464 in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
It goes on to blame “armed Palestinian groups” for some of the Palestinian casualties, as they were allegedly injured as a result of “accidents involving children who were near to military training exercises.” Assuming that this is the case, accidents of this nature cannot be considered “grave violations,” as they are — by the UN’s own definition — accidental.
However, the confusing breakdown of these numbers was not accidental, as it allowed Guterres the space to declare that, “should the situation repeat itself in 2022, without meaningful improvement, Israel should be listed.”
Worse, Guterres’ report went further to reassure the Israelis that they are on the right track by stating that, “so far this year, we have not witnessed a similar number of violations,” as if to suggest that the now-collapsed right-wing Israeli government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid deliberately changed its policies regarding the targeting of Palestinian children. Of course, there is no evidence of this whatsoever.
Defense for Children International’s Palestine chapter last month reported that Israel “had been intensifying its aggression” against children in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the beginning of 2022. It confirmed that as many as 15 Palestinian children had been killed by Israeli forces in the first six months of 2022, almost the same number as in the entirety of the previous year. This includes five children killed in the occupied city of Jenin alone. Israel has even targeted journalists who attempted to report on these violations, including Palestinian Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed on May 11, and Ali Samoudi, who was shot in the shoulder the same day.
Much more can be said, of course, about the besiegement of hundreds of thousands of children in the Gaza Strip, which is known as the world’s largest open-air prison, and many more in the West Bank. The lack of basic human rights, including lifesaving medicine and, in the case of Gaza, clean water, hardly suggests any measurable improvement in Israel’s track record as far as its treatment of Palestinian children is concerned.
If you think that the UN report is a step in the right direction, think again. The year 2014 was one of the most tragic for Palestinian children, with 557 killed and 4,249 injured, the vast majority of whom were targeted during the Israeli war on Gaza. But still Israel was not included on the UN’s “list of shame.” The clear message here is that Israel may target Palestinian children as it pleases and there will be no legal, political or moral accountability for its actions.
This is not what Palestinians expect from the UN, an organization that supposedly exists to end armed conflicts and bring about peace and security for all. For now, the message emanating from the world’s largest international institution to Manasra and the rest of Palestine’s children will remain unchanged: “We regret we failed to protect you.”
• Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com.