By Ali Abunimah
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has caved in to pressure from Israel and the United States and taken the Israeli military off an official list of serious violators of children’s rights, in this year’s report on children in armed conflict.
In doing so, Ban rejected an official recommendation from his own Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui and numerous human rights organizations and child rights defenders.
Ban’s act is particularly egregious since the report found that the number of children killed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2014, at 557, was the third highest only after Iraq and Afghanistan and ahead of Syria.
“The revelation that Israel’s armed forces were removed from the annex of the annual report by Ban Ki-moon is deplorable,” Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine), told The Electronic Intifada.
“The annual report and its annex, or children’s ‘list of shame,’ has been a strong evidence-based accountability tool proven to help increase protections for children in armed conflict situations. There is ample evidence on persistent grave violations committed by Israeli forces since at least 2006 that should have triggered listing,” Parker added.
“The secretary-general’s decision to place politics above justice and accountability for Palestinian children has provided Israeli forces with tacit approval to continue committing grave violations against children with impunity,” Parker said.
The top UN official’s decision will be greeted with relief by the Obama administration, Israel and others concerned with ensuring such Israeli impunity.
“The draft 2015 report prepared by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, recommended adding Israel and Hamas to the annexed list of parties – the so-called ‘list of shame’ – due to their repeated violations against children,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on 4 June.
Human Rights Watch called on Ban to “list all countries and armed groups that have repeatedly committed these violations, and resist reported pressure from Israel and the United States to remove Israel from the draft list.”
But that pressure proved irresistible to Ban. Foreign Policy reported last week that the Obama administration had made a concerted effort to pressure him to drop Israel from the list for cynical political reasons.
According to an unnamed UN official quoted by Foreign Policy, the Obama administration was concerned about false accusations that “the White House is anti-Israel,” as the US completes sensitive negotiations over Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program.
Human Rights Watch supported calls on Ban to list Hamas as well as Israel, but this appears to have been a maneuver to look “balanced” and avoid baseless accusations of anti-Israel bias frequently leveled at the organization.
Sources familiar with the final report have told The Electronic Intifada that Hamas is not on the list either.
But the violations attributed to Palestinian armed groups, including the death of one Israeli child last summer due to a rocket fired from Gaza, can hardly be compared in scope to the systematic mass killings with impunity of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip and West Bank by Israeli occupation forces.
Since Hamas and other Palestinian armed resistance groups are already under international sanctions and arms embargoes and listed by various countries as “terrorist organizations,” adding Hamas to the list would have meant little.
It is Israel whose violations continue not only with impunity but with assistance from the predominantly European and North American governments that arm it.
DCI-Palestine documented the killings of at least 547 Palestinian children during last summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza.
Human Rights Watch cites as part of Israel’s record the “unlawful killing of children” in the occupied West Bank, including Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, both 17, shot dead by snipers on 15 May 2014.
In April, a board of inquiry set up by Ban found that Israel killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians in seven attacks on United Nations-run schools in the Gaza Strip last summer.
In March, there was an outcry among Palestinian and international human rights advocates when it was revealed that UN officials appeared to be trying to sabotage the evidence-based process that leads to a recommendation of listing, after threats from Israel.
Palestinian organizations called on the mid-level UN officials accused of interfering with the process to resign.
This led to assurances from Special Representative Zerrougui that the decision-making process was still underway and indeed, after gathering all the evidence, Zerrougui did recommend that Israel be listed.
Such a recommendation comes after UN bodies collect evidence in collaboration with human rights organizations, according to specific criteria mandated in UN Security Council Resolution 1612.
But despite the months-long nonpolitical and evidence-based process, the final decision was always in Ban’s hands.
Partner in Israel’s crimes
There was much at stake for Israel and indeed for Ban if he had gone with the evidence instead of submitting to political pressure.
“Inclusion of a party on the secretary general’s list triggers increased response from the UN and potential Security Council sanctions, such as arms embargoes, travel bans, and asset freezes,” Human Rights Watch notes.
“For a country or armed group to be removed from the list, the UN must verify that the party has ended the abuses after carrying out an action plan negotiated with the UN.”
Ban has a long history of using his office to ensure that Israel escapes accountability except for the mildest verbal censures that are almost always “balanced” with criticism of those who live under Israeli occupation.
At the height of last summer’s Israeli attack on Gaza, 129 organizations and distinguished individuals wrote to the secretary-general, condemning him for “your biased statements, your failure to act, and the inappropriate justification of Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law, which amount to war crimes.”
Ban’s record, they said, made him a “partner” in Israel’s crimes. His latest craven decision will only cement that well-earned reputation.
While Israel will celebrate victory in the short-term, the long-term impact will likely be to further discredit the UN as a mechanism for accountability and convince more people of the need for direct popular pressure on Israel in the form of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
© 2015 Electronic Intifada