I thank H.E. Dato Sri Anifah Aman, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia and President of the Security Council, for convening this timely debate on children and armed conflict. This matter is of highest priority and urgency for the State of Palestine, whose children’s lives are gravely endangered by the Israeli occupation.
I also thank Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Yoka Brandt, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, and Ms. Eunice Apio, Director of Facilitation for Peace and Development, for their important briefings.
We come before the Security Council anguished by the Secretary-General’s decision to exclude Israel from the list of parties committing grave violations against children in his annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict (S/2015/409).
Israel, the occupying Power, is without doubt a flagrant violator of child rights. Israel systematically commits crimes against Palestinian children, its actions contravening its obligations under human rights law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and international humanitarian law, which obligates the occupying Power to ensure the well-being and safety of the civilian population under its occupation.
Evidence verified by the United Nations and numerous human rights organizations affirms that Israel continues to kill and maim children, attack schools and hospitals, and prevent humanitarian access, with devastating impact on the rights, lives and well-being of Palestinian children. These facts are well-documented in the current report and similar past reports.
According to the established criteria, such actions would trigger a listing among the grave violators identified in the report’s annex. And, yet, Israel was not included in that list as pressures were again blatantly exerted to shield it from censure and measures of accountability. This glaring omission and failure to hold Israel responsible for its crimes comes at heavy cost to our innocent children, who are being denied the protection of the law, their rights violated, their suffering deepened and their lives, dreams and futures shattered, without consequence.
Israel’s brutality increased against Palestinian children in 2014, causing the 3rd highest number of child fatalities in armed conflicts worldwide. As reported, at least 557 Palestinian children were killed, the majority in the Gaza Strip during the Israeli military assaults of July-August 2014, including 340 boys and 200 girls, from babies of one week old to 17 years old.
We continue grieving this massive loss of human life and innocence. Among them are 19 children of the Abu Jame’ family – the youngest a 6-month old girl, Bisan – who were massacred in an Israeli airstrike on their home that killed 25 family members in total. They suffered the same disaster inflicted on 142 families who lost multiple members – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – in such criminal assaults, with 89 families totally decimated.
The grim reality is that the Israeli occupying forces killed an average of 10 children per day in Gaza, most of whom had not yet celebrated their 12th birthday. Children were killed on beaches as they played in broad daylight before the eyes of the world, in the sanctity of their homes, in their beds as they slept, in schools, in playgrounds, in the arms of their parents who could not save them from the Israeli onslaught. And an estimated 3,000 children were injured and maimed by the deliberate, indiscriminate Israeli strikes and bombardments of civilian areas. 1,000 of those children will suffer life-long disabilities. These facts – documented and verified by UN agencies on the ground – can neither be disputed nor distorted nor justified by any shameless propaganda.
In addition to these horrific facts, 1,218 Palestinian children were injured in 2014 by the occupying forces in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, more than half under the age of 12 and many critically wounded, and at least 13 children were killed, among them Mohammed Abu Khdeir, age 16, who was abducted and burnt alive by terrorist settlers.
Moreover, along with rampant Israeli strikes on hospitals and homes causing death and injury to children, the report indicates that Israeli attacks damaged or destroyed 543 schools in Palestine, the highest recorded number of all situations. This includes UNRWA schools, where many Palestinian families, the majority refugees, seeking protection under the UN flag, met a tragic fate at the hands of the occupying forces, which killed at least 42 people, including 16 children, and injured 230 in strikes on the schools.
Generations of Palestinian children have been traumatized by the depravity of the Israeli occupation. As noted by the Secretary-General in the report, “The cumulative impact on children and the civilian population in general of these military operations, and the ongoing military occupation in the State of Palestine, is devastating”.
The average 8-year-old in Gaza has witnessed three major military aggressions, but has never set foot outside Gaza. Too many young lives have been cut short by the violence and terror of the occupying forces and extremist settler militias, who along with the Israeli Government should be included in the list of violators. The children that survive this constant aggression are left to cope with deep physical and psychological wounds, gravely impairing their lives, including as a result of:
- loss of family members – with at least 1,500 children orphaned in the last Israeli war alone
- detention and arrest – with children as young as 12 seized from their beds in the dead of night, detained, interrogated, beaten, blindfolded, strip-searched, forced to endure solitary confinement and other acts amounting to torture, and prosecuted in the only juvenile military court system in the world
- the illegal blockade by which Israel has inhumanely deprived the Palestinians in Gaza, isolated them from the world and obstructed humanitarian assistance and recovery
- forced displacement – endured repeatedly by many children – and the destruction of their homes and loss of their life possessions
Where else in the world would such deplorable treatment of children be permitted? How long will the Security Council allow Israel to act as a State above the law, perpetrating such grave violations against children with impunity?
This shameful situation renders the law, the obligations to protect civilians in armed conflict, and the accountability mechanisms established for this purpose meaningless. The failure to apply the same standards and demands for compliance to Israel undermines the credibility of the international system and proves that it is broken. This accountability gap clearly fosters Israeli impunity, as shown in its callous response to the report and the persistence of its violations against our children, who are left to fend for themselves against this Israeli savagery.
As this Council knows, had Israel been added to the list of grave violators, a process of increased oversight would have been initiated. The UN and Israel would have had to negotiate a time-bound, mandatory action plan to protect children. Listing would also have provided the Council with tools to prevent and respond to future Israeli violations. Israel’s exclusion from the list – despite the expert advice of the SRSG and the UN agencies monitoring the situation in Palestine – is a missed opportunity to hold Israel accountable and to save the lives of Palestinian children.
In 2009, the Secretary-General came before the Council and stated that “all countries and all groups must put the protection of children in situations of armed conflict above politics”. We echo that appeal today in light of the tragic plight of Palestinian children under Israeli occupation.
Israel must be held accountable for its crimes. We are convinced that only collective international action can compel it to cease its violations and respect the law. Our pursuit of accountability and commitment to international law are evident in our accession to the Rome Statute and other international treaties. While the Israeli Government continues to demonstrate in word and deed that it has no interest in peace and the rule of law, insistent on denying the Palestinian people their rights and entrenching its occupation, the Palestinian leadership remains committed to peace. To salvage the prospects for peace, we implore the international community, with the Security Council at the forefront, to act to uphold international law and UN resolutions towards ending Israel’s illegal occupation and achieving freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. Until then, we again appeal for protection of the Palestinian people, beginning with our children.
I thank you, Mr. President.