There is a lengthy and concerted campaign being waged to portray Israel as a serial abuser of children’s rights. Look no further than the exchange between BBC news presenter Anjana Gadgil and former prime minister Naftali Bennett, in which Gadgil declared that “Israeli forces are happy to kill children.”
For years, a network of nongovernmental organizations, with the intent of generating international sanctions against Israel, have lobbied to have the IDF included on a blacklist of armed groups that commit grave violations of children’s rights. Along the way, the NGOs, while ignoring Palestinian abuses of children in the context of terrorism, accuse Israel of uniquely and deliberately targeting children.
Annually, the Office of the UN Secretary-General publishes a report on “Children and Armed Conflict” (CAAC), which is intended to catalogue and punish grave violations of children’s rights during armed conflicts. One of the grave violations is recruitment and use of children by armed groups, such as practiced by Palestinian terrorist organizations in Jenin, where four teenagers recently died – all combatants and members of terrorist groups.
Questionable data sources: Working group bias in CAAC report on Israel
The report is accompanied by an appendix – a “blacklist” – that specifies armed groups, such as ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda, for their attacks and other abuses of children.
Crucially, the data and analysis regarding Israel on which the CAAC report is based is provided by a “working group” organized by the UNICEF office based in Jerusalem, and comprising many of the same organizations campaigning to blacklist the IDF. These include Defense for Children International-Palestine, designated as a terrorist entity by Israel due to its ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization. Other working group members are BDS proponents and groups that have lobbied for International Criminal Court investigations against Israelis. All receive European government funding.
This, despite UNICEF guidelines that mandate the neutrality, impartiality, and independence of working group members.
The neglected truth in NGO and CAAC reports
Worryingly, the report this year called for the “strengthening and broadening” of this working group, disregarding the obvious bias and propaganda focus of its constituent organizations.
Unsurprisingly, the NGO and CAAC reports have also consistently overlooked Palestinian incitement and the involvement of Palestinian minors in acts of violence against Israelis. In the most recent edition, published on June 27, the UN verified the recruitment and use of only a single Palestinian minor.
In sharp contrast, NGO Monitor has identified approximately 90 Palestinian minors killed while engaging in violence against Israelis, including shootings, stabbings, lobbing explosives, Molotov cocktails, and stones, and other violent acts – since January 2018. These include approximately 40 teens affiliated with designated terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Lions’ Den, PFLP, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other factions.
CAAC's misrepresentation of violations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The CAAC’s feigned ignorance of Palestinian recruitment and use of Palestinian children is only one of the distortions that appear in its reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For instance, according to the UN, the grave violation of “maiming” constitutes “any action that causes a serious, permanent, disabling injury, scarring or mutilation to a child.”
In contrast, the June 2023 CAAC report asserts that approximately 18% of all alleged “grave violations” by Israeli forces were caused by the use of tear gas (presumably during Palestinian riots). According to the US Center for Disease Control, the effects of tear gas are “usually short-lived (15-30 minutes) – a far cry from the “permanent” and “disabling” standards ostensibly applied by CAAC. The use of tear gas is not mentioned in the context of any other conflict.
Unmasking the double standards
Another example of these double standards relates to “denial of humanitarian access.” In CAAC reporting on other conflicts, this category includes incidents involving robberies, extortion, the destruction of property and assaults on humanitarian personnel, including killings. However, in the Israeli context, it refers to denials of permit applications for Gazans seeking medical treatment in Israel or the West Bank – accounting for over 60% of total Israeli “violations.” More fundamentally, Israel is not obligated to allow residents of Gaza into Israel for medical treatment, much as it has no obligation to allow access within its borders to any other group of non-Israelis living outside of the country.
As a result of the reliance on biased NGOs funded by Europe and members of the UNICEF “working group,” this year’s report presents Israel as committing more violations than Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen.
This distortion of the CAAC mechanism must be rectified. Israel and other responsible governments must demand that relevant UN bodies, including the Security Council (under whose auspices the CAAC operates) and UNICEF, ensure that terror-linked propaganda-focused anti-Israel NGOs are not partnered with, and that their data and reporting are not relied on. The NGO working group must be disbanded, and reporting must adhere to international standards, applied equally to all conflicts.
Combating terrorist exploitation, protecting Palestinian children
Additionally, more reporting on the abuse of Palestinian children through incitement and recruitment and use by terrorist organizations is required.
Lastly, donor governments should immediately end support for such organizations that exploit children to promote demonization.
If these steps are not taken, the continued recruiting of Palestinian child soldiers by terrorist organizations will continue, as well as the accompanying threat of violence directed at Israelis.
The writer is a senior researcher at NGO Monitor.