Israel is one of the world’s worst violators of children’s rights, according to António Guterres.
But the UN secretary-general has once again left Israel off an annual list naming the world’s worst abusers. By doing so he’s sending a clear message to Tel Aviv that it can continue killing Palestinian children with impunity.
This isn’t the first time the UN chief has singled Israel out for special treatment. But it once again highlights the complicity of international bodies in crimes that they are supposed to work to prevent.
Guterres “reported that Israeli security forces killed 78 Palestinian children and injured 982 in 2021, more casualties [than] caused by any other armed force or group in the 21 conflict countries covered in his review,” Human Rights Watch observed Tuesday.
“Despite this, Guterres failed to include Israeli forces in his annual ‘list of shame’ for violations against children in armed conflict,” the group added.
“For years, Guterres has employed a double standard by listing some parties on his ‘list of shame’ while omitting others that have often committed far more violations,” Human Rights Watch said.
“Israel has never appeared on the list, even though the UN has found its forces responsible for killing or injuring more than 7,000 Palestinian children since 2015.”
In his 2022 report to the Security Council on children and armed conflict, Guterres states that “the highest numbers of grave violations were verified in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, Somalia, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen.”
State and non-state actors in each and every one of those countries, along with many others, are on Guterres’ list, but none from Israel.
The 15 countries from which state and non-state actors are named in the “list of shame” are all in the global south, eight of them in Africa.
In Yemen, Guterres lists only the Houthi rebel movement, once again omitting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their American and European allies, whose devastating seven-year war on that country has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with particularly severe harm to children.
Similarly, in Afghanistan, the UN omits mention of US and allied forces, whose invasion and 20-year occupation of the country cost the lives of tens of thousands of children.
Even as American occupation forces withdrew chaotically from Afghanistan last summer, leaving behind a devastated country on the brink of famine, the US carried out a drone strike that killed seven children.
In 2015, Ban Ki-moon, Guterres’ predecessor as UN secretary general, caved in to pressure from Israel and the United States and removed the Israeli army from an initial draft of the list.
In doing so, Ban rejected a recommendation from his own special representative on children and armed conflict and numerous human rights organizations and child rights defenders.
This year’s report, covering 2021, does not however ignore the situation of children living under Israeli rule.
Indeed, Guterres states that the UN “verified grave violations against 1,208 Palestinian children and nine Israeli children” in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Israel.
The report paints a horrifying picture of systematic Israeli violence against Palestinian children, including the detention of more than 600.
But Guterres attempts to create a false balance with biased and misleading accusations against Palestinian resistance organizations.
For instance, the secretary-general says the UN “verified the recruitment of one Palestinian boy by the Mujahidin Brigades in Gaza.” He also points to “the recruitment and use of one boy” by Hamas’ armed wing, noting that this alleged incident occurred in 2019 but was “verified in 2021.”
The UN chief slams various Palestinian resistance groups for organizing “summer camps” for adults and children “as young as 14, exposing them to military content and activities.”
Yet nowhere does he note that Israel systematically exposes Israeli Jewish children to “military content and activities” – not in the context of a legitimate anti-colonial resistance struggle, but in order to prepare them to become occupiers and oppressors of Palestinians.
For instance, as recently as January the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s defense and education ministries launched a program for “gifted” students “to enlist 14- and 15-year-olds in a long-term program that includes engineering studies and service in the Mossad’s technology unit, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces.”
Some of these programs involve the military indoctrination of children in Israeli kindergartens.
An acceptable baseline?
Guterres notes that Israel’s 11-day bombing campaign against Gaza in May 2021 resulted in a “significant increase in the number of cases of violence against children.”
Almost 70 Palestinian children were killed during the Israeli attack.
“So far this year, we have not witnessed a similar number of violations,” Guterres asserts. “However, should the situation repeat itself in 2022, without meaningful improvement, Israel should be listed.”
With this shocking statement, Guterres appears to be telling Israel that the horrifying violence it inflicts and has inflicted on Palestinian children day after day, for decade after decade, is an acceptable baseline.
It is in effect a UN green light for Israel to kill, maim and jail Palestinian children, but just not too many.
Guterres asserts meanwhile that Israel is “engaging” with the UN “to prevent any more violations against children and adopt clear and time-bound commitments.”
This charade allows Israel to continue its crimes under cover of an endless process based on the lie that its military occupation, apartheid and settler-colonialism – an apparatus designed for persecution – can simultaneously respect the rights of its victims.
So far this year, Israeli occupation forces have killed 16 Palestinian children and as usual, no one has been held accountable.
That is because the only way to end Israel’s crimes against Palestinian children is to end its brutal rule over them.
And in another attempt to obscure Israel’s responsibility and introduce balance where none exists, Guterres threatens to add Palestinians resistance organizations to his list of shame.
But the prize for shameful behavior must go to Guterres, who has proven himself to be no defender of children.