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Home > English > NEWS AND ANALYSIS > UNICEF Isn’t Anti-Semitic

UNICEF Isn’t Anti-Semitic

Monday 11 March 2013, by Gideon Levy

UNICEF has published a report no less harsh, this time with respect to Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children. Now, you can no longer say it was because of anti-Semitism.

It has already been met here with a typical shrug of the shoulders, the report by the United Nations Children Fund declaring that Palestinian children detained by the Israel Defense Forces are subject to widespread, systematic ill-treatment that violates international law.

Now it’s no longer “the automatic majority” at the UN’s General Assembly, nor is it “Israel-haters” on the UN Human Rights Council. Now it’s UNICEF − and UNICEF is really another story entirely.

The UN International Emergency Children’s Fund, as it was originally known, was founded in 1946 at the initiative of a Polish-Jewish pediatrician and Holocaust survivor. And it has become, over many years, an organization of global celebrities.

Its name is displayed on the jerseys of Barcelona soccer players − jerseys that are also worn by many Israeli children. Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is a goodwill ambassador for the organization, as are fellow soccer player David Beckham, Princess Caroline of Monaco, British actor Sir Roger Moore, Columbian pop musician Shakira, and even our own musician David Broza and actress Yona Elian. This is the charity club of choice for the international jet set.

The Israeli Zena Harman received a Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the organization in 1965. Over a year ago, a festive ceremony was held by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, during which Israel signed onto the new Convention on the Rights of the Child proposed by the organization.

An Israeli representative was chosen this year to serve on UNICEF’s executive board for the first time in 40 years, in what was portrayed as a rare diplomatic accomplishment. Even Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes served as the honorary chair of the Israeli branch of UNICEF.

UNICEF is concerned with protecting the rights of the world’s children, ensuring that they have access to clean water, proper nutrition, a fitting education and the like. From time to time, it publishes frightening reports about the abuse faced by children in the darkest of regimes and the world’s worst failed states.

Now, UNICEF has published a report no less harsh, this time with respect to Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children. Now, you can no longer say it was because of anti-Semitism.

The photo of the walls of the Israeli Ofer Prison in the West Bank on the cover of the report, and the picture depicted in its pages, should evoke dread among every Israeli parent. Some 7,000 Palestinian children were arrested in the past decade, an average of 700 per year.

The report described the process by which this generally occurs: A large military force invades a home in the dead of night and rudely wakes up its occupants. After a violent search that sometimes includes the destruction of furniture, the young suspect is bound with hand restraints, their eyes are blindfolded and they are ripped from their shocked and frightened family.

The child is taken to a jeep and usually forced to sit on the floor of the vehicle. On the way to the detention facility, the child is sometimes struck by the soldiers’ fists and legs while they are tied up.

At the investigation facility, the child waits hours, sometimes even an entire day, without food or water and without access to a toilet. Their interrogation includes threats of death, sexual threats directed toward them and their family members, and sometimes also physical blows.

No lawyers or family members are present when any child is investigated, as is required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the one signed with so much pomp and circumstance at the education minister’s office.

By the end of their interrogations, most of the children admit everything they are accused of − usually stone-throwing. They sign confessions written in Hebrew, even when they have no idea what these “confessions” say.

Afterward, the child is sent to solitary confinement for a period that can sometimes last as long as a month. They are treated in a manner that is “cruel” and “inhuman,” according to the UNICEF report.

The child first meets their lawyer at the juvenile military court, and their remand is likely to be extended up to a period of 188 days, in violation of international standards. In contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that detention must be a last resort, there is practically no chance of release on bail for children facing charges.

Then the punishment comes, usually a draconian one. Two of the prisons in which these children are incarcerated are located within Israel, in contravention of the Geneva Convention, which makes it very difficult for the children’s family members to visit them, also in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized. It is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights, the UNICEF report states.

All of this occurs in a country where children are considered a source of joy, where concern for their well-being is of the highest priority. All of this occurs in your country, a short hour from your children’s bedrooms.