United Nations Secretary General Bank Ki-moon has decided not to include Israel or Hamas to its "blacklist" of states and/or organizations that systematically and continuously harm children during times of conflict.
The secretary general's decision to leave the Israeli military off of the list was made against the recommendation of his special envoy on the matter, Leila Zerrougui of Algeria, following intense pressure from both Israel and the United States.
UN agencies in Israel and the Palestinian territories reported an alarming number of child victims in last year's war in the Gaza Strip but were split on whether Israel should be put on a list of violators of children's rights, a UN document said. The final decision on the report was left up to Ban.
Nevertheless, in the report - a copy of which Haaretz has obtained – Ban leveled harsh criticism over Israeli policy, which caused harm to children in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and called on Israel to reexamine its policy to ensure that past such incidents do not repeat themselves.
"I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect children, to prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals," Ban said.
"An essential measure in this regard is ensuring accountability for perpetrators of alleged violations. I further urge Israel to engage in a dialogue with my special representative and the United Nations to ensure that there is no recurrence in grave violations against children," he added.
The report detailed the findings made by Zerrougui with regard to 2014, and included references to alleged Israeli violations of children's rights in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as those made by Hamas and the other Palestinian factions.
"In 2014, the security situation significantly deteriorated in the State of Palestine with another escalation of hostilities in Gaza and a significant increase of tensions throughout the West Bank, with devastating impacts for children. Palestinian and Israeli children continued to be affected by the prevailing situation of military occupation, conflict and closure," the report says.
A key section of the report dealt with casualties among Palestinian and Israeli children during last summer’s war in Gaza. It said that 540 Palestinian minors, ranging in age from 1 week to 17 years, were killed during the fighting; this exceeds the combined total from Israel’s two previous operations in Gaza, in 2009 and 2012. Seventy percent of the Palestinian minors killed were under age 12.
During last summer’s war, Israel damaged both schools and hospitals in Gaza, the report said, and in some cases, civilian facilities were reportedly targeted directly even though there appeared to be no militant activity in the vicinity. “This raises serious concern over the observance of the rules of international humanitarian law concerning the conduct of hostilities, including the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality,” it said.
One specific case cited in the report was the killing of four children aged 9 to 11 in an Israeli strike on a Gaza beach on July 16, 2014. “No military targets could be identified in the apparently calm area and no rockets were fired towards Israel from that location at that time,” it said.
Another case the report cited was a strike that destroyed a building on July 20, killing 25 members of a single family, including 19 children. “Surviving members testified that they had received no prior warning” from Israeli forces, the report said. “The Military Advocate General (MAG) opened a criminal investigation.”
The report also addressed the rocket fire at Israel from Gaza, saying this raised suspicions that Palestinian organizations had violated international law. It specifically cited the case of 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman, killed by a mortar shell that hit Kibbutz Sha’ar Hanegev, and noted that rockets and mortars seriously wounded six other Israeli children aged 3 months to 17 years. Another 210 Israeli children suffered milder injuries.
Misfired Palestinian rockets also killed at least 13 children in Gaza, the report said.
The UN said it received reports of nine cases of children being recruited for military activity by Palestinian organizations, including Hamas’ military wing. It found evidence to confirm five of these cases.
The report also cited one case in which Israeli soldiers ordered a 17-year-old Palestinian from Khan Yunis to search tunnels at gunpoint. The boy said he was interrogated, abused, and used to obtain information about Hamas operatives, the report stated.
Another section of the report dealt with arrests of Palestinian minors in the West Bank by Israeli forces, including many cases in which the detained minors were physically or verbally abused or even threatened with sexual violence.
Regarding Israeli strikes on several UNRWA schools in Gaza during last summer’s war, the report noted that the military advocate general has opened criminal investigations into some of these cases. It also noted that Palestinian militants had stored weapons in some UNRWA schools.
The report said the IDF opened preliminary inquiries into 100 incidents that occurred during the war, and 13 of these inquiries led to criminal investigations. Nevertheless, Ban wrote, he was worried by the fact that these inquiries focused solely on exceptional incidents, and that no comprehensive investigation was launched into policies and tactical procedures that might have violated international law.
“The Israeli and the Palestinian authorities have an obligation to ensure that allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are promptly, effectively, independently, and impartially investigated, and that those responsible are brought to justice,” the report said.
The report concluded by harshly criticizing Israel over the scope of its violations of children’s rights in 2014.
“The unprecedented and unacceptable scale of the impact on children in 2014 raises grave concerns about Israel's compliance with international humanitarian law particularly in relation to excessive use of force,” the report said. “The cumulative impact on children and the civilian population in general of these military operations, and the ongoing military occupation in the State of Palestine, is devastating.”
The report details many incidents in which Palestinian children were killed by live fire or sponge bullets fired by IDF forces during demonstrations in the West Bank. In some of these cases, the report pointed out that the children did not present any danger to the soldiers when they were shot.
The report also mentions the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teens - Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaer, and Naftali Frenkel - in June 2014 in Gush Etzion, and mentioned the fact that Israel arrested three Hamas militants suspected of carrying out the deed.
The report also mentions the abduction and murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir by three Israeli civilians, two of them minors, who had sought revenge for the three teens' deaths.
The UN chief also mentioned in his report that 63 Palestinian children were wounded as a result of violent settler activity in the West Bank, including one incident in which settlers from Yitzhar attacked a school in the village of Urif. It also mentions that 16 Israeli children were wounded in the West Bank from stones or firebombs hurled by Palestinians.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon responded to the report, saying "Israel should never have been part of the UN's 'blacklist' and therefore it is natural that it is not included in the list."
According to Nachshon, "Israel works to protect civilians from the murderous aggressions of terror groups that have no issue placing Palestinian civilians, including children, in the line of fire. This group, Hamas, does not hesitate to use children as human shields and sacrificing their lives on the altar of hatred of Israel.
"On the other hand, Israel does everything it can to prevent civilians from being harmed. This is our moral obligation and we act accordingly and with deep commitment to it," he said.
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