Submission to UN urges rights for Palestinian, Israeli children subjected to Hamas abuse

April 4, 2019 by Eliana Rudee -
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In a legal brief filed with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child shortly before the one-year anniversary of the Palestinian “March of Return” on March 30, the independent human-rights group U.N. Watch urged that the Palestinian Authority be held to account for violating children’s rights, alleging that it has “failed to protect both Palestinian and Israeli children in armed conflict.”

Young kids play outside in a playground in Sderot. The playground in Sderot, which three bomb shelters have built into the playground to protect children from daily Kassam rockets. The playground is the first of its kind in the world. Credit: Daniel Dreifuss/flash 90

Made up of 18 independent experts, the U.N. child-rights panel carries out a two-day review of countries’ records every five years, scrutinizing their compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Palestine, recognized as a non-member state at the United Nations, signed the treaty in 2014, and will for the first time appear before a confidential session of the panel from June 3-7. The experts will conduct a preliminary review of the Palestinian report, while also considering the submission of U.N. Watch and those from other U.N. and non-governmental sources.

Following the June meeting, the committee will identify the main questions to be addressed during the full review of the Palestinian report in January 2020.

U.N. Watch’s 25-page submission details Hamas violations of numerous treaty provisions on children’s rights, and presses the committee to address Palestinian non-compliance with its obligations, including protecting children from “all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.”

The report provides evidence that Palestinian groups have subjected children to “arbitrary detention and torture … inundating children with messages of hate and violence,” as well as “encouraging them to kill Israelis and become martyrs in the struggle to liberate all of Israel [from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea] for Palestine.”

Additionally, according to the submission, “Palestinian militants have learned how to exploit international humanitarian law to their advantage. Understanding that the Israeli army must conduct itself according to international law, which includes protections for civilians, they deliberately exploit children as a cover for their militant activities.”

Offering examples of the way in which Hamas and Islamic Jihad use children as human shields, U.N. Watch’s Hillel Neuer explained to JNS that “Palestinian terrorist groups know that the Israeli army conducts itself according to international law, which includes special protection for children, and they then cynically exploit children as a cover for their activities.”

On March 30, the Israel Defense Forces reported that two 8-year-old boys were “forced to cross into Israel with a knife,” before the IDF returned them safely to Gaza.

According to IDF testimony cited in U.N. Watch’s brief, this incident is not unique. Hamas often sends children that young to the front lines of the protests and promises to pay them 300 shekels ($83) if they are injured.

“They [Hamas] tell young children to go forward, ‘the army does not shoot young children.’ They tell the child to go forward, and he does. They trick him,” said a Gaza rioter from the “March of Return” in testimony after being arrested attempting to cross into Israel.

Indeed, as IDF soldiers have witnessed both in the West Bank and Gaza, armed Hamas activists often hide among children. My Truth, an Israeli NGO, recently published testimonies by IDF soldiers who encountered this tactic firsthand.

In one testimony, R.T. said, “After they deployed and gathered they would start moving towards the fence while throwing stones and rocks and of course launching the notorious ‘terror kites.’ From such a close range we could clearly see, even without our sniper gear, that armed Hamas activists were hiding among the civilian crowd that included many women and children.”

“It’s time for the international community to hold the Palestinians accountable to their own commitments, including their solemn undertakings under international law to respect children’s rights at a time when they use and abuse children in the most cynical way,” Neuer told JNS.

According to U.N. Watch legal adviser Dina Rovner, a co-author of the report, the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas and shootings on Israeli civilians often harms Israeli children.

“Just last week, Hamas fired a rocket that hit an Israeli home in Mishmeret, injuring two children, and another rocket landed in a home in Sderot,” she said. “In the same week, an Israeli child in Beit El was injured by Palestinian shooting.”

Despite blatant Palestinian violations of the children’s rights treaty, Rovner expressed her concern that U.N. reports often find ways to blame Israel for Palestinian non-compliance. “The treaty body review should focus on Palestinian compliance, and not on Israel, whose compliance with the convention is reviewed separately,” she told JNS.

“Changing the focus and blaming Israel wouldn’t help Palestinian children at the end of the day,” added Neuer. “How the United Nations decides to use this report will be a test for the international community. We will see if they are truly serious about applying their international human-rights treaties as a shield to protect Palestinian children or simply using them as a sword against Israel.”

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