5 May 2015
Attack on Gaza last year raises pressure on Ban Ki-moon
to put Israeli army on same list as Islamic State and Taliban
Middle East Eye – 5 June 2015
Palestinian solidarity groups have taken to social media
to step up the pressure on United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to
include Israel for the first time on a “shame list” of serious violators of
The campaign, which culminates in the submission of an
online petition to Ban’s office on 7 May, was launched after indications that
Israel is exerting enormous pressure on UN officials to avoid being named.
Ban’s office is due to make the list public in the
A senior UN source, who wished to remain anonymous
because of the diplomatically sensitive nature of any announcement, told Middle
East Eye that Ban’s chief advisers had recommended that the Israeli army be
identified as a serious violator of children’s rights.
That would place it, for the first time, alongside groups
like Islamic State, the Taliban and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, pushing Israel
further towards international isolation.
Israel has found ever fewer supporters in the
international community as it has tried to prevent Palestinian moves both to
win recognition at the UN for statehood and to be accepted at international
bodies such as the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Relations with
the White House have recently hit an unprecedented low.
The decision, the source said, had become all but inevitable
after the recent findings of a UN inquiry into Israel’s attack on Gaza last
summer known as Operation Protective Edge that killed more than 500
Palestinian children and injured at least 3,300 others.
The investigation concluded that the Israeli army had
targeted six UN schools where civilians, including many children, were
sheltering, even though it had been notified of the sites and their GPS
coordinates in advance.
Ban described the attacks
– which killed 44 Palestinians and injured 227 more – as “a matter of the
Large-scale killing and maiming of children, and attacks
on schools, are among the “triggers” for inclusion on the list in a UN
monitoring process of children’s right in conflicts around the world introduced
a decade ago.
Intimidation of staff
However, there are concerns in the UN and among
children’s rights experts that, despite the evidence against Israel, political
pressure from Israel and the US could ensure that the Israeli army remains off
In a sign of Israel’s concern, its officials protested
strenuously in February when local UN staff in Jerusalem were due to ratify a
recommendation to UN headquarters that Israel be included. At the last minute,
the meeting was cancelled.
One of Ban’s officials privately complained to
, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, over the intimidation of
agency staff in Jerusalem, according to a report in Britain’s Guardian
Despite Israel’s intervention, said the UN source,
agency officials in Jerusalem and Ban’s advisers in New York had decided the
evidence against Israel was compelling.
If Ban had received such a recommendation, the pressures
on him would be intense, said Gerard Horton, a lawyer specialising in Israel’s
treatment of children. “Once things move to New York, they become highly
political,” he told MEE.
“After all, the US pays a large slice of the UN’s
budget, so UN officials cannot afford to ignore the administration’s wishes. If
UN officials want to help children in Africa and Iraq, they have to ask
themselves whether it is worth risking it all for a fight over Israel.”
Activists on social media have established a new group, 4Palkids
, to try to bring grassroots pressure to bear on
Ariyana Love, one of the organisers, said: “Our hope is
that, if Israel is put on the list, it will begin a process of bringing
sanctions to bear against Israel from the international community.”
UN credibility at stake
The UN source said it would be unprecedented if Ban
vetoed the advice of his team in New York dealing with children and armed
conflict, headed by Leila Zerrougui.
“The Secretary General has never before vetoed a
recommendation for inclusion on this list and it will be hard for him to do so
now and maintain the UN’s credibility in the Middle East,” said the source.
A spokeswoman in Jerusalem for UNICEF, which leads the
local monitoring process, referred all questions to New York, saying the matter
Ban’s office said the report would be published in June
but would not comment on which countries were to be listed or whether Israel
had lobbied the Secretary-General.
Off the record, UN officials have noted that Ban will
have to take account of the fact that the UN’s Human Rights Council is due to
submit its report into Operation Protective Edge in the coming months. The
report is expected to be harshly critical of Israel’s 50-day operation and the
resulting high number of casualties of Palestinian civilians.
Israel is regularly condemned by UN human rights
commissions, most recently in a resolution
by the Commission on the Status of Women. But Israel and the US usually dismiss
such findings as partisan, given that the commissions represent national
governments, including Arab and Muslim states.
A listing of Israel by Ban – with the implicit backing
of the Security Council, which originally set up the monitoring of children’s rights
in conflict zones – will carry much more weight.
Horton, a founder of Military Court Watch, an
organisation monitoring Israel’s detention of Palestinian children, said
western states’ current displeasure with Israel might give Ban the diplomatic
room he needs to punish it.
“There is a lot of anger in Europe and the US towards
the Israeli government, especially after [Israeli prime minister] Benjamin
Netanyahu publicly declared during the recent election campaign that he would
not allow the creation of a Palestinian state,” he said.
“Placing Israel on the list might be a way to send a
shot across the bows. It would be a major embarrassment for Israel, but it
would draw a lot less blood than the US vetoing a resolution in the Security
Council against, say, Israel’s settlements.”
‘List of shame’
Since 2005, UN agencies have been charged with
monitoring 23 conflicts, including the one between Israel and the Palestinians,
for serious violations of children’s rights.
Six grave violations have been identified that qualify a
party to a conflict for inclusion on the list. They are: killing and maiming
children, abductions, sexual attacks, attacks on schools and hospitals, the
denial of humanitarian access, and the recruitment of children as soldiers.
The UN Secretary General’s office publishes detailed
annual reports into all the conflicts, highlighting major violations of
children’s rights. However, the Israeli army has so far avoided inclusion in an
annex that has come to be known as the “list of shame”.
In last year’s report, 52 parties were named
gravest violations against children in states such as Afghanistan, the Central
African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia,
South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Several government armed forces were
Although the Israeli army was not identified in that
report as one of the most serious abusers, it was criticised for violations
against Palestinian children that included: actions that led to deaths and
injuries; night-time arrests; cruel and degrading treatment during
interrogations; threats of sexual violence; transfers to Israeli prisons, in
violation of the Geneva Conventions; attacks on schools; and the denial for
patients in Gaza of required hospital treatments.
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based watchdog, has noted
that inclusion on the list has proved successful in curbing states’ worst
abuses of children’s rights.
“The ‘list of shame’ has been a remarkably effective
tool in getting governments to improve their children’s rights records,” Bede
Sheppard, the deputy director of the children’s rights division at HRW, noted
earlier this year.
Issam Yunis, director of Al-Mezan, a human rights group
in Gaza, told MEE that listing Israel was vital to increasing protections for
Palestinians under occupation.
“At the moment, Israel is totally unaccountable,
especially in Gaza, where it has a green light to do what it likes. Gaza is a
society of children [figures
44 per cent of the population are under 14] so it is inevitable that they pay
the heaviest price for Israeli impunity.”
In the case of Israel and the occupied Palestinian
territories, violations have been documented and monitored since 2007 by a
working group led by the UN children’s agency, UNICEF. The group includes other
major UN agencies, international aid organisations and Israeli and Palestinian
human rights organisations.
Until this year, Palestinian children’s rights experts
noted, Israel had not only been excluded from the final list publicised by the
UN Secretary General’s office, but had not even been discussed for inclusion.
“This year, there was a breakthrough in that the local
report included a proposal for the first time to consider whether Israel should
be on the list,” said Ayed Abed Eqtaish, a lawyer with the Palestine branch of
Defence for Children International.
He said that was why Israel had sought to prevent the
meeting in February.
He added: “Things are getting noticeably harder for
Israel. The pressure is growing year by year.”
The Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights
Organisations Council, a coalition of 12 Palestinian groups, sent a letter to
Ban in February urging him to be “impartial” and include Israel on the list.
They wrote: “Repeated Israeli military offensives,
prolonged military occupation, and recurrent military violence combined with
complete disregard for international law has hindered any meaningful efforts
toward implementing comprehensive protections for children living [under
Inclusion on the list would add significantly to the
mounting criticism of Israel’s conduct during last year’s Operation Protective
Edge. Reports from human rights groups have already accused Israel of carrying
out war crimes.
This week, a group of former Israeli soldiers, Breaking
the Silence, published testimonies from soldiers who served in Gaza. Many said
they had received similar orders from their commanders: to shoot any
Palestinian, whether armed or not, in areas Israel considered combat zones.
A staff sergeant was quoted
saying: “The instructions are to shoot right away. Whoever you spot – be they
armed or unarmed, no matter what. The instructions are very clear. Any person
you run into, that you see with your eyes – shoot to kill. It’s an explicit
Breaking the Silence concluded
that Israel was “at best indifferent about casualties among the Palestinian
Although criticism in the UN of Israel has focused on
the killing and maiming of children in last year’s attack on Gaza, Yunis of
Al-Mezan said Israel should have been listed long before for the grave
violation of “denying humanitarian access”.
“The siege of Gaza has been going on for nearly a decade
and meets the criteria of a grave violation,” he said. “If Israel is listed
this year, it’s important that it stays there until it ends such violations.”