The United States condemned countries, diplomats and UN officials seeking to compare Israel with Islamic State in a speech that its envoy to the United Nations gave to the Security Council in New York on Thursday.
“The idea that the government of Israel, as some have suggested, would be listed on the same page as ISIS, Boko Haram or Syria, is factually and fundamentally wrong,” US Ambassador to the UN for Special Political Affairs David Pressman said.
He spoke at an open UN Security Council meeting to debate the report on the dangers that children in war zones face, which was submitted by the UN’s Special Envoy on Children in Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui of Algeria.
In her initial draft from last month, Zerrougui named Israel among the worst abusers of child rights including Islamic State and Boko Haram on a black list that she addended to the report.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally appealed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to remove Israel from the list at that time.
Ban, who has the power to change the report before its publication, took Israel off the list earlier this month.
During the Security Council meeting on Thursday, Jordan, Venezuela and a number of countries, in addition to the PLO Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, attacked Ban for politicizing the list in his removing Israel.
Mansour said that according to the report the 540 child fatalities in Gaza during Israel’s war with Hamas, were the third-highest of any armed conflict in the world in 2014, following Afghanistan’s 710 and Iraq’s 679. Syria came in fourth with 368 deaths.
Pressman said the Syrian number was misleading as multiple UN agencies had said it was impossible to accurately know how many children had died in that 2014 civil war, whereas the Gaza data is verifiable.
“Comparing these underreported number meets no standard of credibility and seems like a blatant attempt to vilify rather than illuminate,” Pressman said.
Mansour said he had attached the name of each child killed in Gaza as well as an additional 17 killed by the IDF in the West Bank to a copy of his speech that he distributed to the 15-member states of the Security Council and all member states present in the room.
“Israel continues to kill and maim children,” Mansour said.
The IDF’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank should have triggered Israel to “be listed among the grave violators” of human rights, he said.
“You [Israel] qualified to be the list of shame whether Boko Haram is there or not; if you meet the criteria then you have to be there,” he said. “Yet Israel was not included in that list as political pressures were blatantly exerted to save it from measures and accountability.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor said Israel regrets the loss of any innocent life and had taken all preventative measures.
The report, he said, disproportionately focused on Israeli actions in Gaza and did not mention that Israel was fighting a defensive war against a terrorist organization, Hamas, that was launching rockets against Israel’s civilian areas.
“In Nigeria, Boko Haram has already abducted 1000 children, many of whom were placed on the front-lines to act as human shields,” Prosor said.
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo, civilians, including children, are being beheaded, mutilated, and raped. In Iraq, ISIS is forcing young girls to call their parents to detail being gang-raped by dozens of men. In Syria, ISIS forces abducted and tortured Kurdish children, and forced them to watch footage of ISIS beheadings and attacks,” Prosor said.
With all the regimes that are deliberately targeting children, “it is simply absurd that this report disproportionately focused on Israel,” he said.
“The report has 17 paragraphs on Syria, 9 on Yemen, 8 on Iraq, 6 on Libya and no less than 32 paragraphs on Israel,” he said.
According to the New York Times
, over 3,500 children in Syria just this year, a number that is significantly higher than the 368 figure in Zerrougui’s report, Prosor said.
“Instead of being balanced, neutral, and focused on facts, the report’s discussion of Israel is politicized, stained with interests, and distorts reality,” he said.
Prosor charged that the report did not speak of Hamas, even though the group runs military summer camps for elementary school children.
“Finding Hamas in this report is harder than finding a needle in a haystack” even though it launched 4,000 rockets and mortars against Israeli communities during Operation Protective Edge, Prosor said.
“While Israel tried to save Palestinian lives by warning them to leave combat areas, Hamas threatened their lives if they did,” he said.
“The failure of this report goes far deeper than mere oversight,” Prosor said. “The drafting of the report was marked at every level by widespread, systematic and institutionalized biased conduct against Israel.”
Israel was not informed that such a report was in the works, nor was its input sought, Prosor said.
Attempts by Israel to provide information were “flatly refused,” Prosor said.
“Yet, NGOs with a publicly available record of notorious anti-Israel activity were welcomed with open arms as an integral part of the working group,” he said.
The little contact that did exist between Zerrougui’s office and Israel was a “mere formality,” he said.
In addition, Prosor added, sensitive information known only to Zerrougui’s office was leaked to the press.
Prosor called for an investigation into Zerrougui’s conduct. Prior to the Security Council meeting he also sent a letter to Ban with the same request.
In his address to the Council Ban said, “Last year was one of the worst in recent memory for children in countries affected by conflict.”
He spoke about the grave violations against children in the Central African Republic, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan and the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as the suffering of those in Gaza as a result of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.
Israel was the only one he called on to halt its actions.
“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect and prevent the killing and maiming of children and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals,” he said.
“I regret that the contents of the annual report have been the subject of more controversy and discussions than usual, to the extent of threatening its integrity.
The mechanism has withstood this scrutiny and the content of my report should speak for itself. It presents a strong overview of egregious violations suffered by children in conflict in 2014,” Ban said.
He warned, “Those who engage in military action that results in numerous grave violations against children will, regardless of intent, find themselves under scrutiny.”
One way to safeguard the lives of children is to “end impunity,” he said. After the meeting, he told reporters that he supported Zerrougui, even though he had amended her report.
“I am aware of the controversy surrounding the report. I want to express once again my full support for my special representative, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, and the excellent work that she and her team have done,” he said.
In talking with reporters after the meeting, Zerrougui rejected Israel’s accusations.
“Israel has been in this report since 2005, every year it’s the same process that we apply,” Zerrougui told reporters. “Last year I was here, I was not accused of misconduct. The year before I was here, I was not accused of misconduct.”
Zerrougui said Israel had the standard two weeks and three additional days to respond.
Aside from the Gaza war other sections of the report seemed to avoid naming perpetrators of the incidents detailed. In the report’s Central African Republic subsection, article 44 describes the rape of several children over a five-month period as “sexual violence by Elements of Operation Sangaris,” rather than specifically mentioning it was French troops that committed the heinous acts of raping several children they were meant to protect in Bangui.
Subsequently, infractions committed by UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East are significantly downplayed.
When the deputy spokesman for the Secretary-General’s Office, Farhan Haq, was asked why there was a seeming lack of uniformity in naming the perpetrators, he replied it was only a matter of “semantics.”
When pressed about the lack of continuity, he replied, “The report stands as it is.”
The report omits offenses committed by UN member states in the P5 – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – such as the number of children who were killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan, which is estimated between 167 and 202.
The 166 Palestinian and Syrian children who died in Yarmuk, either due to starvation due to the blockage of humanitarian aid (which, according to former UN high commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem “Navi” Pillay, may constitute a war crime), aerial bombardment by Syrian Governmental Forces, beheading by Islamic State or by other nefarious means, were unaccounted for.
However, the Palestinian children who perished in the Gaza Strip were itemized by cause of demise and location.
When asked why Yarmuk’s children were omitted from the report, another Ban spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric said, “The report highlights the global situation that children face throughout the world. I think intelligent people will argue and have different opinions about what should have been in the report and out of the report.”Sara Brittany Somerset and Reuters contributed to this report.