UN accuses Israel of recruiting Palestinian child soldiers

Israel said the UN claims were false and pushed back against the draft report which Israel said was downplaying Palestinian terrorism.

 Young Palestinians take part in a graduation ceremony at a military summer camp organised by the Islamic Jihad Movement, in Gaza City June 30, 2021. (photo credit: SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS)
Young Palestinians take part in a graduation ceremony at a military summer camp organised by the Islamic Jihad Movement, in Gaza City June 30, 2021.
(photo credit: SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS)

A draft of the UN’s Children and Armed Conflict report for 2023 accuses Israel of recruiting three Palestinian minors as human shields and combatants. A draft of the report on incidents in 2022 includes the new accusation, which the Israeli Embassy to the UN called “strange” in its official rebuttal. A final draft is expected to be published in late June or early July.

“These claims are not supported by any evidence that could be examined by the Israeli authorities,” the Israeli Embassy wrote.

“According to our findings, this lack of evidence is due to the fact that no such cases took place in 2022 and that the claims are false. Israel expects to see these baseless claims removed from the final report.”

Israel works to not be blacklisted in upcoming UN report

Israel has been working to ensure it is not blacklisted in the upcoming report. Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Ghassan Alian met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last week to submit the results of Israel’s examination of the UN’s allegations. Israel asked that its comments be reflected in the final draft of the report.

Another UN claim that Israel said was unfounded is the allegation that a Palestinian minor was abducted by settlers. The UN report provided few details of the incident, even after Israel asked for more information, and the IDF and Israel Police have no record of it taking place.

A young Palestinian stands outside Ofer Prison near Ramallah (credit: FADI AROURI/REUTERS)
A young Palestinian stands outside Ofer Prison near Ramallah (credit: FADI AROURI/REUTERS)

“We believe that a case with such extreme and unusual allegations merits a serious and thorough verification before being included in the report, thus the [government of Israel] expects the mentioning of this unverified [incident] should be removed,” the embassy wrote.

The UN draft report accuses Israel of killing and wounding Palestinian minors. It does not refer to the context in which these alleged activities took place, such as teenagers killed while committing terrorist attacks, nor does it refer to ways in which Palestinians contribute to the violence, such as terrorist groups using children as human shields or launching attacks from civilian areas.

“Regrettably, the draft report does not reflect the efforts made by Israel to ensure the protection of children in the context of the conflict,” the embassy wrote.

In one case, the UN claimed that a 22-year-old Arab-Israeli was a Palestinian minor and that Israel killed him, when in fact he died from accidental self-inflicted wounds. Muhammad Walid attacked a bus carrying Israeli forces and was injured by flammable materials in his own vehicle. He died the following month.

The number of Palestinian children the UN has alleged Israel killed dropped from 86 in 2021 to 32 in 2022.

Ninety percent (29 of 32) of the minors the UN said were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank “were involved at the time in terrorist attacks or violent clashes with Israeli security forces,” Israel said. It provided details of the incidents, often including notices from terrorist groups, such as Hamas, claiming the teens as members.

This occurred in a year in which there was a 55% increase in Israeli fatalities from terrorist attacks, which is not mentioned in the report, while the number of wounded Palestinian minors dropped 53% in that time period.

While 23 Israeli minors were wounded in attacks by Palestinians in 2022, only seven were mentioned in the report. The Israeli response detailed all of the incidents.

The UN report included the killing of 16-year-old Aryeh Shechopek at a Jerusalem bus stop, but it omitted the abduction and murder of 17-year-old Tiran Fero, who was hospitalized in Jenin following a car crash. Palestinian terrorists disconnected Fero from life support and kidnapped him. He died in captivity, and his body was returned following heavy international pressure.

Also left unmentioned were more than 1,000 rockets that Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched from the Gaza Strip into Israeli population centers last year and their impact on Israeli minors.

“Errant PIJ rockets that misfired inside Gaza were responsible for the deaths of most of the Palestinian minors killed,” the embassy wrote. “The remaining eight minors allegedly killed by Israeli airstrikes are a direct result of the Palestinian use of minors as human shields... The IDF struck only military targets belonging to PIJ in the Gaza Strip, such as rocket depots, weapons stockpiles, production facilities, and underground tunnels used for military purposes; all to prevent the ongoing rocket fire on Israeli civilians, including minors. Unfortunately, many of these targets were embedded in the heart of densely populated civilian areas.”

The UN also failed to report Hamas’s and Islamic Jihad’s use of schools and hospitals as bases for terrorist attacks and the digging of attack tunnels targeting civilian sites, which are in violation of international law.

While mentioning Islamic Jihad, the report overlooked Hamas and its recruitment of minors, Israel wrote, adding that Guterres had warned Hamas on this topic in 2021. In addition, it did not include Hamas or the Palestinian Authority’s incitement of children to confront Israeli soldiers in its textbooks, summer camps and media channels.

Israel also said the number of Palestinian minors detained in 2022 was 791, not the draft’s 852, and it rejected allegations of their mistreatment.

The UN considered inhalation of tear gas as “maiming,” while Israel said the gas is “a widely accepted means to suppress violent, life-threatening protests, caus[ing], at worst, injuries with short-lived effects,” and as such, it should not be included. Tear-gas inhalation was not mentioned in other countries’ reports in the past.

Israel cooperated with the special representative of the UN secretary-general for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, when she visited Israel in December to work on her report. The UN warned Israel and the PA last year that they could appear on its blacklist if they did not do more to protect children in the conflict.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.