I thank you for convening today’s debate on children and armed conflict. I also thank Special Representative Leila Zerrougui for her briefing, as well as the UN agencies supporting Palestinian children, including UNICEF and UNRWA.
As the Security Council considers the situation of children in armed conflict around the world, we appeal to the Council not to forget Palestinian children, who are suffering extreme hardship, shocking acts of aggression, oppression, and gross human rights violations due to the Israeli occupation and persistence of this conflict for nearly seventy years. Israel, the occupying Power, is in continuous, grave breach of international law, including, inter alia, the 4th Geneva Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Charter, and Security Council resolutions. It is without a doubt, that Israel systematically fulfils three of the six criteria used to assess grave violations against children.
First, Israeli occupying forces engage in a pattern of killing and maiming children. The occupying Power cynically claims that its military strikes are “conducted in a precise and surgical manner”, yet in last summer’s Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, at least 540 Palestinian children were killed, constituting 20 percent of the civilian casualties. Thousands more children were injured and disabled. These crimes were not just a one-time occurrence. Israel’s previous assaults on occupied Gaza caused a high proportion of child casualties, in addition to the incessant attacks on children in the occupied West Bank by the occupying forces and extremist settlers, with almost 1200 injured in 2014 alone.
Second, the occupying Power deliberately targets schools and hospitals. During the war on Gaza, the Israeli government repeatedly received the precise locations of hospitals, medical centers, and schools, including those where it was fully aware that families had been sheltering. Yet, the occupying Power attacked and damaged 279 schools and 75 health centers and hospitals, in addition to the thousands of civilian homes it targeted and destroyed. Again, these attacks were not just a one-time occurrence as the occupying Power has systematically destroyed Palestinian homes and civilian properties in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, rendering thousands upon thousands of families homeless, forcibly displacing them, and leaving children in a state of perpetual insecurity and trauma.
Third, Israel denies humanitarian access to the entire occupied Palestinian people, endangering the well-being and survival of Palestinian children. Since 2007, Israel has subjected the more than 1.8 million civilians in Gaza to an illegal, immoral blockade. The situation has left Gaza devastated, aid dependent and completely debilitated its economy and infrastructure, including water networks, with 90% of water unfit for humans. At this rate, without a lifting of the Israeli blockade and assistance at the scope and scale needed, Gaza’s reconstruction will take over 100 years, a deplorable situation inconsistent with international humanitarian law. Children – 52% of the population – are suffering disproportionately.
Israel’s policies – approved at the highest levels – are not only gross violations against children, but are systematic violations of international law tantamount to war crimes. Israel’s deliberate oppression of Palestinian children has no limits – not a day goes by where children’s rights are not violated.
Here, I must also draw attention to the Israeli practice of detaining Palestinian children, some as young as 8 years old. The Israeli military court is the world’s first and only juvenile military court and since 2000, an estimated 10,000 children have been detained and prosecuted in this court. Their numbers are growing. Over the past three years, child detainees increased 87%. In detention, children are blindfolded, strip-searched, and subjected to physical and verbal abuse and solitary confinement that traumatizes them. They endure cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, amounting to torture.
The occupying Power’s collective punishment and abuse of Palestinian children is also a source of ongoing trauma and suffering. In Gaza alone, six months after Israel’s latest attack, Palestinian children suffer hunger, fear, deprivation and isolation. More than 400,000 children in Gaza are in urgent need of psychosocial support and we commend the UN agencies, in particular UNICEF and UNRWA, for their tireless efforts to assist those children in need.
It is clear that the crimes committed by Israel, the occupying Power, against children are a symptom of a wider problem – a complete lack of accountability. We have continued to repeat that the international community’s unwillingness to enforce international law when it comes to Israel only fuels its lawlessness and the culture of impunity among the occupying forces. In this regard, we call on the international community, including the Security Council, to take three immediate steps to end this cycle of impunity and protect Palestinian children.
First, we call on the Secretary-General to add the Israeli occupying forces to the UN’s global list of parties that consistently commit grave violations against children. We urge Member States to join us in this call. The evidence is abundant. The criteria are to be assessed objectively and any such assessment leads to the conclusion that the Israeli occupying forces must be listed. Failure to do so implies politicization of the mechanism, which undermines its credibility. And, if credibility is undermined for one case, it is undermined for all cases.
Second, the international community should demand the immediate and permanent release of all children from Israeli captivity. There can be no justification for detention and abuse of children.
Finally, assistance must flow into Gaza and the international community should do whatever it takes to ensure Israel complies with international law, including by lifting its illegal blockade. This is imperative for a real change in the tragic situation of Palestinian children under Israel’s occupation.
The plight of Palestinian children cannot be divorced from the wider political context. Only an independent State of Palestine, where the Palestinian people can live in freedom and dignity, will bring permanent relief to and lasting peace and security to our children. The Palestinian leadership remains committed to the two-State solution. However, the Israeli Prime Minister has clearly made his opposition known through words and actions. And for this, it is incumbent on the international community to apply the pressure required to end Israel’s occupation that began in 1967 and bring the Israeli side into compliance with international law. In the meantime, the Palestinian leadership will continue to pursue accountability for the Palestinian people, including children, through every available, legitimate avenue.
I thank you, Mr. President.