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UN report accuses Israel of ‘grave violations’ against children

Annual review of children and armed conflict says IDF maimed hundreds of minors in West Bank, mostly by tear gas

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Children stand with Hamas terrorists as they parade through the streets for Bassem Issa, a top Hamas' commander, who was killed by Israeli Defense Force military actions prior to a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel, in Gaza City, Saturday, May 22, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Children stand with Hamas terrorists as they parade through the streets for Bassem Issa, a top Hamas' commander, who was killed by Israeli Defense Force military actions prior to a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel, in Gaza City, Saturday, May 22, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

An annual United Nations report on children in war accused Israel of hundreds of “grave violations” in 2020.

The report, presented to the UN Security Council on Monday and dated May 6, 2021, said that 340 Palestinian children were harmed in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip over the past year.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the official author of the report, alleged that Israel’s offenses included the detention of 361 Palestinian children, dozens of whom reported physical violence by Israeli security forces. The report also accused Israel of killing eight Palestinian children in the West Bank and one Israeli boy, who died in a car crash while he was fleeing from Israel police.

Israel allegedly “maimed” 324 Palestinian children in 2020, 170 by tear gas and 70 by rubber bullets. The report also accused Israeli forces of attacking 26 schools and hospitals, while settlers attacked another four. The UN was able to verify one instance of a school being used by Palestinians for military purposes, but was unable to determine the perpetrator.

The Foreign Ministry has yet to offer a response to the report.

The annual report covers countries and organizations under the UN’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, which are listed as grave violators in the annual report’s annexes.

However, despite an intensive multi-year campaign by a consortium of NGOs called the 1612 Watchlist on Children to have it listed in the report’s annex, the IDF is not seen as a grave violator and Israel is not under the MRM. The Syrian government is one of the regional actors listed as a grave violator, as are armed Sunni and Shiite terrorists organizations in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Kurdish women and children arrested in Iraq on suspicion of Islamic terror activity in 2017. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

“If Israel was to be placed on the list, that would be highly unusual,” said Anne Herzberg, a legal adviser at NGO Monitor.

In March, Watchlist experts sharply criticized the UN secretary-general’s decisions to keep Israel off the global blacklist of parties responsible for harming children during conflicts.

Recruitment of child soldiers, attacks on schools and hospitals, killing and maiming, sexual assault and abduction of children could trigger inclusion in the annex, which could result in Security Council sanctions.

The Watchlist consists of Amnesty International, Children Rights International Network, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of three UN “situations of concern,” pointed out Herzberg.

According to the report, Israel prevented children from humanitarian access, including education and medical care. Twenty-eight percent of requests from the Gaza Strip for children to access health care were denied by Israel.

A medic carries a wounded child from an apartment building in Ashkelon hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip on May 11, 2021 (Flash90)

The UN did not mention Israel providing health care for hundreds of Gazan children.

Guterres called on Israel “to review and strengthen measures to prevent any excessive use of force, to ensure that force be used only when necessary and to minimize the effects of its forces’ operations on children and ensure accountability in all cases involving the killing and maiming of children.”

He also called upon Israel to better protect schools, end the practice of administrative detention and halt recruitment of children as informants.

The report has a disproportionate focus on Israel because of the number of NGOs tracking the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Herzberg argued.

“There’s much more information that goes into it on this conflict as opposed to other areas,” she said. “They may say for other countries, we don’t have enough information to report on it, but that’s because of a lack of an NGO industry in those conflict areas.”

The report also uses definitions of violations differently in Israel’s case. For instance, for the first time this year it considers injuries from tear gas use by Israel as “maiming.”

Illustrative photo of Palestinians at the Erez Crossing between Gaza and Israel on September 3, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report itself defines maiming as “any action that causes a serious, permanent, disabling injury, scarring or mutilation to a child.”

In addition, the report accused Israeli forces of 89 interferences with education, which include delays in getting through checkpoints, and firing tear gas near schools.

There is also severe underreporting on the use of child soldiers by Palestinian groups, according to Herzberg.

The report lists “the recruitment of two Palestinian boys by Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza.”

“This is just absurd,” said Herzberg. “Even in the last conflict, there were many kids that were claimed as combatants by the terror groups, and they are ignored in this report.”

“Because the reporting on Israel is largely reported by radical anti-Israel NGOs,” argued Herzberg, “that blind themselves to violation by Palestinian terror groups, the report does not accurately capture violations against children by Palestinians and therefore the UN response is going to be inadequate to remedy violations against children in conflict.”

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