Disturbing report, via John Lyons in the Australian, that the UN is apparently shielding Israel from the criticisms and punishment it so richly deserves for torturing and abusing children:
It would be difficult to imagine a more bizarre press conference.
When UNICEF, the UN children’s fund, recently notified journalists in Jerusalem that it was releasing a report on Palestinian children in Israel’s military justice system, there was much interest.
The issue has had a growing international focus, particularly in Britain where it has been the subject of parliamentary debates.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr and his predecessor Kevin Rudd have taken up the issue with Israel. But something strange has happened.
During the past two years several groups have been attacked for highlighting Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children.
Breaking the Silence, a group of 850 serving and former Israeli soldiers campaigning to improve Israel’s human rights record, has been attacked for focusing on the issue.
But not UNICEF. After the new report Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “Israel will study the conclusions and will work to implement them through ongoing co-operation with UNICEF, whose work we value and respect. This year Israel has joined the UNICEF board and our working relations and collaboration with the organisation are appreciated by the international community.”
So why has UNICEF been spared an attack? It was obvious at the Jerusalem press conference that something was askew. The room had 60 chairs for only a handful of journalists.
“We were limited in the number of journalists we could invite,” one official admitted.
“You wouldn’t believe the pressure we were under to cancel this event,” another said.
Five UNICEF officials took their seats – with name tags and microphones – and television cameras were set up. It looked like a real press conference.
Inquirer’s photographer had brought a video camera to film for The Australian’s website. But UNICEF’s Jerusalem chief Jean Gough made an announcement: only the first five minutes could be filmed and no officials could be quoted. A press conference where you couldn’t film? Or quote officials?
Gough began speaking. During the first five minutes she praised Israel for its dialogue about the system under which Palestinian children from the age of 12 are tried by Israeli soldiers, while Jewish children in neighbouring settlements are tried before civilian courts. “I want to thank them,” she said of the Israelis.
But once the cameras were off, a totally different story was told – one official said the ill-treatment of Palestinian children was “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”; another told how Palestinian children were “beaten, slapped and kicked” by Israeli soldiers.
He said children sometimes were told they would be killed or that they or members of their families would be sexually assaulted if they did not confess, usually to stone-throwing. Another said there was “a systemic pattern of abuse and torture”.
This was not just media management but a distortion of the truth. The version from the first five minutes was highly positive to Israel, but the later version was of a horrific system in which children were taken from their homes – usually at night – by heavily armed soldiers, blindfolded, denied water and toilets, and even placed in solitary confinement for up to a month. And while UNICEF found Israel had engaged in actions that fitted its definition of torture, the report avoided using that word in its findings.
An investigation by Inquirer suggested that UNICEF had caved in to pressure from Israel or self-censored. The more we questioned, the less UNICEF answered. Gough would not answer certain questions, referring us to UNICEF’s New York executive director, Anthony Lake.