Second thoughts on the UNICEF report on Israel

An Open letter to John Lyons


From Maurice Ostroff                                     April 22, 2013
Dear Mr. Lyons,
I refer to your April 13, 2013 article in the Weekend Australian "UN''s circle of unaccountability"
First of all I am as disturbed as you are about children being arrested and jailed. Moreover I would be outraged if the allegations of severe ill-treatment prove to be true and I join you in demanding a full investigation by the judicial authorities. However, on carefully reading your above mentioned article as well as your almost identical articles of November and December 2011, it appears that none of the shocking allegations are supported by reliable evidence. All emanate from highly politicized sources that are known to be biased and lacking credibility, such as Breaking the Silence and DCI/Palestinian Section. (Many examples and details are found at
I have real difficulty in understanding your description of the press conference with UNICEF as bizarre and I am puzzled by your apparent disappointment that Israel did not attack UNICEF for the report, but rather showed cooperation. This is reflected in the statement from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
``Israel will study the conclusions and will work to implement them through ongoing co-operation with UNICEF, whose work we value and respect". Surely this cooperative attitude should be welcomed rather than disparaged. 
You wrote "An investigation by Inquirer suggested that UNICEF had caved in to pressure from Israel or self-censored.” I hope you don''t expect your readers to take the "suggestion" seriously. In fact it is surprising that a respected journalist like you arrives at conclusions based on unsubstantiated allegations.
Your accusing UNICEF of media management and distortion of the truth in favor of Israel is hardly credible. UNICEF does not hesitate to forcefully criticize Israel as proved by the harsh criticisms in the 2013 report, relieved slightly by expressing approval of a number of improvements that have been made in the treatment of juveniles. By comparison the UNICEF report on Turkey for 2010 treads very softly.
According to Euronews of July 6, 2010 hundreds of minors, some as young as 12, have been prosecuted and jailed in Turkey and an entire generation is growing up in the prisons in the southeast.
“ They are just kids, children, whose rights are recognised by international conventions, but are being punished as if they were members of terrorist organisations under anti-terror law.” Said a lawyer.
A VOA report of May 17, 2010 describes children in adult jails in Turkey, many of whom are serving decade-long sentences.  16 year-old Hasan Dundar explained what happened to him.
"First we were taken to prison, and immediately paramilitary officers came and beat us for two to three hours,."Then the guards took us inside and they started beating us. We were there for four days and during all that time we were beaten.  Every morning, they came and beat us.
Human rights groups say what happened to Dundar is all too common.  They say more than 1,000 Kurdish children are facing time in jail. 
Yet the UNICEF Annual Report for Turkey for 2010 doesn''t even mention child arrests. In referring to military activity, terrorism, civil unrest, court cases and political and social tensions related to the Kurdish issue, instead of referring to arrests, this publication euphemistically states: 
"children may come into contact with the law after participating in demonstrations". 
The report does however refer categorically to discrimination against Roma children who are likely to miss out on birth registration, timely school enrolment and/or basic health care, and may be compelled to work – often on the street.
You also state that in Israel child confessions are in most cases extracted under duress. The Palestinian children who are involved are responsible for hurling rocks and firebombs at motorists, which not only cause severe injury -- they are lethal weapons. Koby Mandell aged 13 and his friend Yosef 14, were stoned to death while out hiking, and it is heartwarming to see how Koby''s grieving parents have reacted by establishing a foundation to help others. See
Palestinian rock throwers caused a crash which killed Asher Hillel Palmer and his one-year-old son. Last December a rock struck a 12-year-old girl, breaking her skull and on March 14, 2013 a 3-year-old girl was in critical condition and her mother and 2 sisters seriously injured after a car accident caused by rocks thrown by Palestinians. Before the accident, a number of drivers reported rock attacks.  A bus was hit with rocks and a man and a 10-year-old boy also were injured by rocks in the same area.
In this regard I refer to an article by Gideon Levy, a columnist for Haaretz, who is well-known as one of Israel''s harshest critics. In describing the recent arrest of 27 school-children, he wrote that soon after their detention, 20 were handed over to the Palestinian police who called the parents to come and fetch them. Interestingly, when the Palestinian police asked who had participated in the stone throwing, all raised their hands in affirmative.  Rather than confessing under duress, the children seem to be proud of their actions and anxious to brag about them.
The UNICEF report states that 700 Palestinian children aged between 12 and 17 are arrested each year.” Dealing with juvenile crime is not confined to Israel. It is a world-wide problem. In addition to the figures quoted above for Turkey, between 9,000 and 13,000 children were reportedly arrested in 2007 in South Africa and in Britain almost 160 children are convicted of crime EVERY DAY including ten-year-olds. In the USA, according to Equal justice Initiative thousands of children have been sentenced as adults and sent to adult prisons. Nearly 3,000 have been sentenced to life imprisonment. Children as young as 13 have been tried as adults and sentenced to die in prison.
In Sweden, according to The Local of March 19, 2013, children suspected of serious crimes are rarely afforded any human contact and are subject to isolation akin to torture. Children were arrested on at least 3,118 occasions in 2011.
I do not quote these statistics to claim that two wrongs make a right. I refer to them to indicate that in common with other democratic countries, Israel has been unable to figure out how best to deal with juvenile crime. In the circumstances I ask in all sincerity how you suggest juvenile throwers of lethal stones, rocks and firebombs be dealt with.
Instead of encouraging child rock throwers by criticizing all efforts to deal with them, one could adopt a more productive approach by dealing with the root cause namely the indoctrination to hate, not only on official PA TV but in their school textbooks as described by then-Senator Hillary Clinton who said 
These textbooks do not give Palestinian children an education; they give them an indoctrination. When we viewed this report in combination with other [PA] media that these children are exposed to, we see a larger picture that is disturbing. It is disturbing on a human level, it is disturbing to me as a mother, it is disturbing to me as a United States Senator, because it basically, profoundly poisons the minds of these children.” 
Anyone hearing Senator Clinton''s complete speech must agree that the problem should be tackled at the source namely, the indoctrination and incitement not only in PA schoolbooks but in the mosques and media which guarantee that the conflict, terror and war will continue into the next generation. It is available at
It is extremely important to recognize that the enlisting of child stone throwers is no different than the war crime of enlisting child soldiers. Article 8(2)(b)(xxvi) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) classifies unambiguously as a war crime
"Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities" [emphasis added] 
The book "The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli Occupation" edited by Zachery Lockman and  Joel Benin describes communiqués issued during the first intifada by the United Leadership of the Uprising. Communiqué No.2 says, 
"O youth of Palestine, O throwers of incendiary stones, clearly the new fascists will be forced to admit the facts entrenched by your ferocious rebellion..Intensify the use of popular means against all enemies beginning with the holy stones and ending with the incendiary Molotov cocktails
In the circumstances, I suggest with respect that your powerful pen could make a substantial contribution to achieving a better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians by impartially addressing the issues I raised above.
This open letter is being publicized as will the considered response I will be grateful to receive from you
Maurice Ostroff