Is UN providing Israel with cover for killing Gaza’s children?

Palestinian medics care for wounded children following an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza City, 19 August 2014. The air strike killed a young girl and a woman and wounded 16 other people.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Palestinian civil society activists have called for the resignation of UN officials implicated in sabotaging moves to have Israel’s army included on a UN list of serious violators of children’s rights.

Meanwhile, senior UN officials have insisted to The Electronic Intifada that no decision has been taken and Israel could still be included on the list.

The final decision will be taken in the coming weeks by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

One official admitted that Ban’s office is already in contact with Israel over the matter, an indication of its political sensitivity.

“Caving in to Israeli pressure”

The Guardian reported on Tuesday that UN insiders are accusing senior colleagues of “caving in to Israeli pressure to abandon moves” to include the Israeli army on the list “alongside such groups as Islamic State, Boko Haram and the Taliban.”

This listing, The Guardian says, “would propel Israel further towards pariah status within international bodies and could lead to UN sanctions.”

The recommendation for listing is made by UN bodies in the country concerned, which collect evidence in collaboration with human rights organizations, according to specific criteria mandated in UN Security Council Resolution 1612.

The recommendation then goes to the office of Leila Zerrougui, the special representative to the UN secretary-general for children and armed conflict. Zerrougui then makes a report to Ban Ki-moon, who has the final say.

“The secretary-general’s annual report on children and armed conflict, which lists armed forces and armed groups” that commit grave violations, “is one of the stronger UN mechanisms related to children’s rights,” Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defence for Children International–Palestine (DCI-Palestine), told The Electronic Intifada.

“Based on evidence gathered by Defence for Children International–Palestine, as well as other UN-verified information, it is clear that Israeli forces committed grave violations against children during last summer’s military offensive on Gaza, specifically killing and maiming and attacks against schools,” Parker added.

Groups supporting Israel’s listing, since its summer attack on Gaza killed more than 500 children and injured 3,300, include Save the Children, War Child, a coalition of Palestinian human rights organizations, Israel’s B’Tselem and the UN children’s rights agency UNICEF.

“Not finalized”

According to The Guardian, top UN officials in Jerusalem canceled, under heavy intimidation from Israel, a February meeting at which local stakeholders were to formally ratify the recommendation.

The officials then “subsequently decided not to recommend the IDF’s [Israeli army] inclusion on the list.”

But Special Representative Leila Zerrougui insists the matter is not closed. In a statement issued to The Electronic Intifada, Zerrougui confirmed that her office is overseeing the preparation of Ban’s annual report on children and armed conflict. The report would be “based on information verified by the UN on the ground” and submitted to her office in New York, she said.

“This report is currently under preparation, and the content of the annexes which list parties to conflict has not yet been finalized,” Zerrougui added.   The report is expected to be out in June.

Israeli “rebuttal”

Similarly, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, told The Electronic Intifada that “there has been no decision taken thus far.”

“Right now we’re in a phase where the reports are being finalized and some of the results will be sent over to [UN] member states in terms of allowing them to prepare a rebuttal,” Haq explained.

“That’s very different from saying a final decision has already made by the secretary-general.”

But Haq would not be drawn on whether a formal recommendation from UN officials in Jerusalem included a proposal to add Israel to the child abusers’ list.

The question of what is actually in the recommendation from UN staff in Jerusalem is crucial.

If the formal consultative and evidence-gathering process mandated by Resolution 1612 was short-circuited – as The Guardian reports – then it is conceivable a recommendation was sent to UN headquarters in New York that fails to say Israel should be listed.

That would provide Ban with political cover not to list Israel – despite the mountain of evidence – and then to claim that experts on the ground never recommended it in the first place.

Haq acknowledged that the secretary-general’s office had already been in touch with the Israeli government “specifically related to this.”

He would not say who initiated the contact, insisting it was part of a “normal dialogue.”

DCI-Palestine’s Brad Parker warned about the danger of politicization: “for it to remain a credible evidence-based system, UN actors must be undoubtedly impartial when choosing to list armed forces or armed groups.”

“The evidence we have collected from Israel’s most recent offensive should trigger listing,” he added, “but only time will tell as a final decision will be taken in the coming weeks.”

The fact that Israeli officials have spoken to the secretary-general’s office about a report that has not yet been written confirms Israel is taking aggressive steps to prevent its inclusion in the list.

Resignation call

The controversy is feeding already simmering anger among Palestinians who fear that the UN has fixed the results of the report in advance for political reasons.

“Once again the UN has given in to Israel’s exceptionalism and provided it cover for war crimes,” Abdulrahman Abu Nahel charged in a statement on behalf of Palestine’s Boycott National Committee (BNC).

“The senior UN officials involved, in particular Robert Serry and June Kunugi, must resign from their posts as they are incapable of fulfilling their functions to protect Palestinians from Israel’s relentless attacks,” Abu Nahel, the BNC’s Gaza-based coordinator, added.

The UN’s James Rawley and June Kunugi are “personae non gratae,” the BNC statement added.

Kunugi is the UNICEF representative in Jerusalem. Rawley – also named in The Guardian report – is a senior official with UNSCO, the office of the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry.

Serry, whose term expires in coming months, had already angered Palestinians who accuse him of colluding to legitimize Israel’s siege of Gaza through the so-called “Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism.”

“Moral courage”

During Israel’s assault on Gaza last summer, dozens of Palestinian and international human rights and civil society organizations accused Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of being a “partner” in Israel’s violations of international law.

In 2013, Ban launched an initiative called “Human Rights Up Front” to ensure that human rights concerns are not subordinated to political machinations.

The initiative encourages UN officials to “take a principled stance and to act with moral courage to prevent serious and large-scale violations,” of human rights, “and pledges headquarters support for those who do so.”

Whether Ban follows the evidence and lists Israel as a major violator of children’s rights will be a major test of his own “moral courage.”




The reelection of the war criminal Netanyahu tells us that the war on Gaza's children will continue and become even more savage. It's time for the UN and the world - and my country, the USA - tout an end to this Israeli madness and protect the children of Gaza from further harm.


Israel's tentacles of legitimization have spread far & wide. IDF's recent slaughter of Palestinian civilians is an ugly scar on the not so pretty face of the regime.


We all agree the Third Reich/concentration camps were bad and yet we ignore facts like: Hiroshima, Vietnam, Palestine - just to name a few holocausts.

The US has and the English speaking crowd have sanitized mayhem.


Netanyahu has given President Obama the needed opening to stop the US protection of Israel in UN Security Council votes. I believe President Obama will take advantage and stop automatically protecting Israel from UN sanctions. It would be a relief to all right thinking Americans to see Israel have to answer for its crimes.


Uncle Sammy-Whammy is VERY QUICK indeed to delineate 'Red lines' to Syria, Libya, Iran, and others. For ONE country, Israel, it's GREEN all the way. Hypocrisy to the Nth degree.


UN is not impartial in dealing with Israel and Palestine and hence all the resulting violence perpetrated by Israel with impunity

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.