opinion | The UN is failing Palestinian victims

“We’re sorry we didn’t protect you.” This was part of a expression issued by United Nations human rights experts on July 14, calling on the Israeli government to release Palestinian prisoner Ahmad Manasra. Only 13 years old then arrest and torture by Israeli forces, Manasra is now 20 years old. His case is an example of Israel’s inhumane treatment of Palestinian children.

That’s not what the Palestinians expect from the United Nations, an organization that supposedly exists to end armed conflict and bring peace and security to all.

The testimony of the experts was powerful and heartfelt. She accused Israel of depriving young Manasra of “his childhood, his family environment, his protection and all the rights that should have been guaranteed to him as a child”. It called the case “urgent” given Manasra’s “deteriorating mental health.” The statement went further, stating that “this case … is an eyesore on all of us as part of the international human rights community.”

Condemnation of Israel for its mistreatment of Palestinian children, whether under siege in war-torn Gaza or under military occupation and apartheid in the rest of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, is commonplace.

Yet somehow Israel was silent spared a spot on the unflattering list issued annually by the Secretary-General of the United Nations that names and shames governments and groups that commit gross violations of children and minors around the world.

Strangely the report Acknowledges Israel’s appalling record of children’s rights violations in Palestine. It describes some of these violations, which UN staff directly reviewed. This includes “2,934 serious injuries to 1,208 Palestinian children” in 2021 alone. However, the report balances Israel’s record, one of the bleakest in the world, and that of the Palestinians, namely the fact that 9 Israeli children have been affected by Palestinian violence in that entire year.

While the intentional harm of a single child is unfortunate, regardless of the circumstances or the perpetrator, it is striking that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saw fit to take for granted the Israeli military’s systematic abuses and the 9 Israeli minors who injured by Palestinian armed groups, whether intentionally or not.

To deal with the apparent discrepancy between Palestinian and Israeli child sacrifice, the UN report all categories lumped together to distract from the identity of the perpetrator and thus reduce the focus on Israeli crimes. For example, the report says that a total of 88 children were killed across Palestine, 69 in Gaza and 17 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, the report breaks down these killings in a way that confuses Palestinian and Israeli children, as if deliberately trying to confuse the reader. A careful reading reveals that all but two of these killings were carried out by Israeli forces.

Furthermore, the report uses the same logic to break down the number of children mutilated in the conflict, although of the 1,128 children mutilated, only 7 were Israelis. Of the remainder, 661 were mutilated in Gaza and 464 in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

That report goes on to blame “Palestinian armed groups” for some of the Palestinian casualties allegedly injured as a result of “accidents involving children near military exercises.” Assuming this is the case, accidents of this nature cannot be considered “serious injuries” as they are accidental according to the UN definition.

However, the confusing breakdown of these numbers was no accident itself, as it gave Guterres the space to state that “should the situation repeat itself in 2022 without significant improvement, Israel would be added to the list.”

Worse, Guterres’ report went further to reassure the Israelis that they are on the right track, noting that “we have not seen a similar number of violations so far this year,” as if to imply that that the right-wing Israeli government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid deliberately changed their policy regarding attacks on Palestinian children. Of course there is no evidence of this.

On June 27, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP) reported that Israel has “intensified its aggression” against children in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since early 2022. DCIP confirmed that no fewer than 15 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli forces in the first six months of 2022, almost as many killed throughout the previous year in the same regions. This number includes 5 children in the occupied city of Jenin alone. Israel has even targeted journalists who tried to cover these violations, including Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who did it killed on May 11, and Ali Samoudi who was shot in the back the same day.

Much more can of course be said about them siege of hundreds of thousands of children in the Gaza Strip, known as the “world’s largest open-air prison,” and many more in the occupied West Bank. The lack of basic human rights, including life-saving medicine and, in the case of Gaza, clean water, does little to point to a measurable improvement in Israel’s track record when it comes to the rights of Palestinian children.

If you think the UN report is a step in the right direction, think again. 2014 was one of the most tragic years for Palestinian children, with 557 children killed and 4,249 injured, according to a previous UN report, the vast majority of whom were attacked during Israel’s war in Gaza. Human Rights Watch specified that the number of Palestinians killed was “the third highest in the world this year”. Despite this, Israel was not blacklisted on the UN “list of shame”. The clear message here is that Israel is free to attack Palestinian children at will, as there will be no legal, political, or moral accountability for its actions.

That’s not what the Palestinians expect from the United Nations, an organization that supposedly exists to end armed conflict and bring peace and security to all. For now, the message from the world’s largest international institution to Manasra and the rest of the children of Palestine remains unchanged: “We regret that we did not protect you.”

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