Two lawmakers from the left and center joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday in condemning UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for singling out Israel in a Security Council debate on children harmed in armed conflict.
While Ban on Thursday mentioned war zones such as Iraq, Syria and South Sudan in his UNSC comments, Israel was the only country he called on to take action to protect children in war zones.
“Last year was one of the worst in recent memory for children in countries affected by conflict,” the UN leader said, adding he is “deeply alarmed at the suffering of so many children as a result of Israeli military operations in Gaza last year.”
“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect and prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals,” he added.
No similar statement was made by the UN chief toward any other country mentioned in the debate, including the Hamas rulers of Gaza, Israeli officials noted.
“This is a black day for the UN,” Netanyahu responded in a late-night statement. “Instead of highlighting the fact that Hamas made hostages of Gaza’s children when it fired at Israel from preschools, and dug tunnels toward Israeli preschools, the UN has again chosen to reproach Israel.”
Netanyahu’s comments were joined Friday by those of Zionist Union MK Daniel Atar, who called Ban’s chiding “infuriating, outrageous and harmful to the essence of the UN as an international body for settling conflict.”
Atar urged the secretary general to “come to his senses and condemn Hamas for the fact that its fighters place Gaza’s children in the line of fire and at the front of the conflict, [together with] Syrian armed groups who massacre entire villages, as well as in Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria and other states where law and morality are not part of state policy.”
Ban “must retract his statements and apologize if he wishes to retain his dignity and the dignity of the organization he leads,” Atar said.
“For 15 years we have suffered under the constant fire of rockets and mortar shells,” Haim Jelin, a former mayor of the rocket-battered Eshkol Regional Council on the Gaza border and now a Member of Knesset for the centrist Yesh Atid, wrote in a letter to Ban on Friday.
“The Israeli government, like any government in the world, has a duty to protect its citizens, a duty to protect us.”
Jelin urged the UN to investigate the tactics of Hamas, who “choose to shoot missiles from population centers, from schools, from health clinics and even from UN facilities (the facilities you give the permission to build with the hope of supporting and developing the area),” and the effects of these tactics on Gaza’s children.
“Wars are cruel; children and innocent people too often pay the price. Instead of criticizing Israel, a country that defends its citizens, I would be happy to see the UN investigating how terrorism operates and examining the suffering it causes to its own people through the use of children as human shields. It is the ultimate form of cowardice, the ultimate show of contempt for human life,” he wrote.
The condemnation from across the political aisle echoes Netanyahu, who insisted Thursday that Israel holds itself to the highest moral standards in combat, “as was determined just this past week by a group of senior American and European generals.
“At the same time, the Hamas terror organization is awarded immunity by the UN, even though it has been proven beyond any doubt that it committed war crimes by firing from hospitals, mosques and from within UN facilities,” he said. “It turns out there is no limit to hypocrisy.”
Ban has in the past criticized both Israel and Hamas for their roles in the 2014 summer conflict. While he has supported Israel’s right to defend itself from rockets and tunnels dug under its border, he also sharply criticized what UN officials have said was the disproportionately high number of Palestinian civilian casualties during the fighting.
The secretary general’s latest report said that in the Gaza conflict at least 561 children were killed — 557 of them Palestinians. It said 4,271 youngsters were injured, all but 22 Palestinians. A recent Israeli report said 369 of those killed during the 50-day conflict were children under the age of 15.
The 557 Palestinian deaths in the UN tally were the third-highest death toll of any conflict in 2014, after Afghanistan with 710 child killings and Iraq with 679 — but ahead of Syria with 368.
The UN chief has also drawn criticism from detractors of Israel for not addressing his decision last week not to include Israel on his annual list of parties that kill or injure children in armed conflict. That decision sparked protests from rights groups and many in the Arab world and elsewhere.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, decried the UN’s “biased and one-sided” approach.
“While wars are waged incessantly in the Middle East and children are slaughtered, the UN regularly decides to mention Israel in the same breath as countries that have long neglected basic human rights,” Hotovely said in a statement. “The State of Israel does everything to protect the lives of civilians on enemy territory, while Hamas cynically uses children and civilian infrastructure and deliberately brings harm to human life.”
MK Ilan Gilon of the far-left Meretz party also slammed the UN leader’s naming of Israel alongside countries “who use terror against their citizens” as “utter stupidity [that] completely invalidates the UN’s moral authority,” the NRG website reported.
Ban’s statement came hours after Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor sent a letter to the secretary general saying a report released that day on children and armed conflict focused disproportionately on the Jewish state compared to other war zones.
In his missive, Prosor raised “deep concerns regarding the improper conduct — at every working level — of the office of… [Algerian legal expert Leila] Zerrougui in the process of drafting and producing the report.”
Prosor also accused Zerrougui of “biased conduct against Israel” and maintained that Israel did not violate international law during the summer 2014 conflict in the Gaza Strip, when the Israel Defense Forces battled against Hamas and other Palestinian militias for 50 days.
Ban defended his report, saying the content “should speak for itself.”
He said a debate is appropriate “but national interests should not cloud the objective at stake, which is protecting children.”
Zerrougui also said she stood by the report. She told reporters that Israel has been included in the annual report since 2005, and the same working methods have been used and it never complained in the past.
Some 2,100 Gazans were killed during last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas-led fighters, according to Palestinian tallies. Israel says that up to half of those killed were fighters and blames Hamas for all civilian deaths in Gaza, since Hamas and other terror groups placed military infrastructure in residential areas of the crowded enclave.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.