In its first ever review of the Palestinians’ record on child rights on January 28-29, 2020, the UN child rights committee largely accepted the Palestinian narrative of blaming Israel for its own shortcomings when determining Palestinian compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This came after the UN committee had censored a submission by UN Watch that put a focus on egregious Palestinian violations such as glorification of martyrdom by Palestinian officials and in Palestinian textbooks, use of Palestinian children as human shields and Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians, including children.
The 18-member child rights committee reviews compliance of member states with the Convention on the Rights of the Child once every five years. The Palestinians joined that treaty and six other human rights treaties in April 2014, after being granted non-member observer status at the UN.
Review of Palestinian compliance with the Child Rights Convention
The UN reviews are supposed to be an exercise in holding states accountable for violations of the treaty. However, the Palestinian Authority used this review process as one more platform to demonize and delegitimize Israel, just like it did in August 2019 in its review by the UN anti-racism committee.
Here, again, the Palestinian Authority repeatedly sought to evade its treaty commitments. The Head of Delegation, Dr. Ahmed A. H. Majdalani began his remarks pleading with the Committee to “not exempt Israel for its violations of human rights” and then proceeding to accuse Israel of a range of violations including racist laws, home demolitions, denial of access to health care, settlements and war crimes, all completely irrelevant to whether the Palestinians adhere to their own child rights obligations.
Responding to the few questions directed at incitement and terrorism, the Palestinian delegation issued blanket denials, such as “our textbooks contain no incitement.”
Unfortunately, Committee Member Benyam Dawit Mezmur of Ethiopia played into the Palestinian delegation’s deflection tactics when he indicated that the concluding observations will “not disregard the peculiar environment that you face,” a thinly-disguised reference to the “occupation,” adding that it would “pay close attention to this reality.”
In one of his questions to the Palestinian delegation, about the higher rates of girl enrollment in secondary schools compared to boy enrollment, Mezmur asked point blank “to what extent is that linked to the occupation?”
While some Committee members did challenge the Palestinian delegation on incitement of Palestinian children to violence, these questions invariably still found ways to implicate Israel. For example, Ms. Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi of Morocco asked what measures have been taken to address “the use of children by non-state armed groups encouraging children to take part in demonstrations…and the glorification of deaths, considered as martyrs.” However, she preceded the question by noting the high rates of Palestinian child deaths due to “the occupation forces,” “the settlers” and “the Israeli Security Forces,” never mentioning Hamas by name.
Likewise, Mr. Bragi Gudbrandsson of Iceland, apparently referring to our report, commented that “it has been argued that the Palestinian authorities have engaged in rampant incitement to engage children in hostilities against Israelis,” but then immediately discounted the argument by adding that he was not “assessing the credibility of this argument” or attributing to it even “a grain of truth.” He then asked whether the Palestinian delegation was confident that “measures have been taken with the aim of protecting children from participating in the ongoing conflict.”
Throughout the two-day session, the issue of “occupation” was considered an accepted criteria of the review, normalizing the anti-Israel narrative and distracting from the primary purpose of the review.
Notwithstanding the above, we note that Committee members did also convey that the review would focus on Palestinian compliance with the treaty. For example, although Committee-member Idrissi began her remarks acknowledging the reality of “occupation,” she added that “the goal of this dialogue is to see how the State of Palestine can be assisted in fulfilling obligations to children by using the means available.” Thus, in line with their mandate, committee members also asked many legitimate questions about how the delegation can take practical measures to improve the social, economic, health, and education experiences of Palestinian children.
Following the review, on February 13, 2020, the committee published its concluding observations. Regrettably, the concluding observations adopted much of the anti-Israel narrative from the review itself, including by acknowledging that “the Israeli occupation” constitutes “a serious obstacle to “the Palestinians’ “implementation of the rights enshrined in the Convention.” At the same time, to the Committee’s credit, the concluding observations focused on the Palestinians’ own obligations under the Convention and also addressed several issues that were raised by UN Watch in its submission, including participation of Palestinian children in anti-Israel violence, incitement in the Palestinian curriculum and detention and torture of Palestinian children by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Disappointingly, one area completely ignored by the committee was Palestinian violations against Israeli children, including indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza and stabbings and other terror attacks targeting Israeli children. UN Watch had provided numerous examples of such attacks in its report.