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UNICEF reportedly tones down report on child detainees in wake of Israeli pressure

A story in ‘The Australian’ newspaper offers a glimpse into the makings of a UN report on Palestinian children detained by Israel, including a look into how Israeli pressure reportedly muffled the report’s criticism. 

Soldiers arresting youths in Nabi Saleh, 2013 (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

Soldiers arresting youths in Nabi Saleh, 2013 (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

The issue of Israel’s treatment of detained minors has been gaining more and more attention in recent weeks. Aside from ongoing parliamentary debates in the UK, Israel’s Channel 2 News aired a story on the nighttime arrests of child stone-throwers in the Al-Arub Refugee Camp (Hebrew), and we at +972 published Samar Hazboun’s beautiful and horrific photo essay of children’s testimonies from their detention.

Both of these were preceded by a UNICEF report published last month, which has gained much attention for its criticism of Israel’s policies towards minors in the occupied territories. Israel differentiates between Israeli and Palestinian minors by law, offering them different sets of rights, subjecting the Palestinian youths to a military court system, and often denying them basic rights in interrogations in an attempt to extort confessions. The UNICEF report concluded that “ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized.” Harsh words indeed.

However, it now appears that even these words have been scrutinized and carefully picked, intentionally leaving out words such as “torture,” reportedly due to Israeli pressure on the UN body. Research published this week by John Lyons, Middle East correspondent for The Australian, alleges that attempts were made by UNICEF to blur the severe implications of its own findings. Lyons describes the press conference in which the report was released, and writes about how the room was surprisingly empty due to the agency’s intentional inviting of few journalists following what one UNICEF official reportedly called intense “pressure to cancel this event.”

Things got even stranger when journalists were told they could only film and quote the first five minutes of the press conference, during which Israel was praised for its cooperation and willingness to act upon the report’s recommendations. Only after cameras and microphones were turned off did the officials start elaborating on their actual findings. One official “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,” writes Lyons, while “another said there was ‘a systemic pattern of abuse and torture.'”

Lyons then goes on and reads the report, finding out that the word “torture” is not used directly throughout the report even though practices described in it amount to as much. “The report even deleted ‘torture’ when it quoted relevant sections of international law and substituted it with ‘duress’,” he writes, and compares Article 15 of the Convention Against Torture as it appears in the original and in the report. When he tried to get anyone in UNICEF to comment on these issues, Lyons says he was bounced back and forth between the Jerusalem branch and the New York head office, in what he describes as a “circle of unaccountability”.

Sodier arresting child in Beit Omar, 2010 (Anne Paq / Activestills)

Sodier arresting child in Beit Omar, 2010 (Anne Paq / Activestills)

Read also:
Detained: Testimonies from Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel
Resource: UNICEF report on Palestinian children in Israeli military detention
Hope ends here: The children’s court at Ofer Military Prison

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    1. An argument that must have been made is that too harsh wording would prevent Israeli State attempts at reform. Israel will not admit to “torture,” so will stonewall the report total.

      The good news here is that the world is a large but interconnected place, making it harder and harder to hide things for long. Reporters exist for a reason.

      Reply to Comment
    2. rsgengland

      Has anyone entertained the thought that maybe the report that has been released is correct.
      Possibly the report took into account other perpetrators of child abuse in other countries, and found that by comparison, the severity in Israel has been overplayed by those with a particular agenda.
      Abuse occurs in the prisons of every state in our wonderfully peace loving world, and it is time to put that abuse in the various countries of the world in perspective.
      The UN has a particularly anti-Israel bias,so for any UN Agency to produce anything other than its staple anti-Israel diet, there can not be a lot to talk about.

      Reply to Comment
      • Requesting that journalists only quote from the first five minutes of a presentation is odd to say the least. As for the report, it quoted specific documents – but deliberately altered the wording in those quotations, changing ‘torture’ to ‘duress’. Taking these rather disingenuous liberties with the documents fudge what is going on, because the abuse meted out to children in detention often does amount to torture. It may not be as bad as the torture techniques used by the Chinese military in Tibet, but it’s still torture. Calling for it to be ‘put in context’ (in other words, saying ‘but worse torture happens elsewhere…’) is an absolute non-argument when it comes to children’s rights and welfare. If I were working with abused children back in England, I would not be saying, “Well, we need to look at this in context, it could be so much worse, they could be in Sierra Leone…” – no. I would be calling a spade a spade and doing my level best to ensure those children were safeguarded, because whether something constitutes torture or not isn’t determined by what may or may not be happening elsewhere, it’s determined by what’s happening right in front of you.

        As for saying ‘abuse occurs everywhere in prisons’ – try making a list of countries in which children are subjected to martial law that overrides their rights as minors. You will find it’s a short one. The excuse-making and obfuscation that go on when it comes to this issue betray a remarkable level of indifference to the welfare of people who are among most vulnerable in this situation. In your comment you are essentially prioritising the public image of a state over the wellbeing of schoolkids who don’t even have basic civil rights, while casually brushing off what those kids have experienced as nothing out of the ordinary. Shameful doesn’t even begin to cover it.

        Reply to Comment
        • rsgengland

          Except for Western Europe and North America, abuse happens in detention to just about everyone.
          That is pretty much the rest of the world operates

          Reply to Comment
          • Gearoid

            Pathetic excuse.

            You apologists used to amaze me with your creativity, but now it’s just pathetic excuses. Israel tortures children? “Well so do other people”.

            You’re complete lack of concern about the morality of the state you hold dear shocks me. Most people are upset when their state and government abuse others.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Israel is preventing underage Palestinian Arab terrorists from carrying out terrorist activities.

            By what standard is that wrong?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Joshua

      “Israel is preventing underage Palestinian Arab terrorists from carrying out terrorist activities.”
      The vast majority of Palestinian children are arrested for stone-throwing. Many are convicted on the basis of confessions obtained using torture.
      By comparison, Israelis – notably ultra-orthodox and settlers – in the same age group routinely throw stones as part of their demonstrations. They are not arrested, not tortured and no-one would dare to refer to them as ‘terrorists’.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >The vast majority of Palestinian children are arrested for stone-throwing.

        Which is a form of terrorism.

        >Many are convicted on the basis of confessions obtained using torture.

        Yeah. Pity that it is not possible to take fingerprints from stones.

        >By comparison, Israelis – notably ultra-orthodox and settlers – in the same age group routinely throw stones as part of their demonstrations.

        Demonstrations where?

        Any violent demonstrations inside Israel are harshly suppressed by the police.

        In WB situation is a bit different, of course, as it should be – Palestinian Arabs are hostile foreigners, after all.

        >They are not arrested, not tortured and no-one would dare to refer to them as ‘terrorists’.

        Oh, they are, as a matter of fact. For how long are you residing in Israel?

        Reply to Comment
        • Joshua

          If you live in Israel, you will surely be familiar with the regular stone-throwing incidents in neighbourhoods such as Mea Shearim. You may also know about the attacks by settler children and youth on their Palestinian peers in Hebron. And yet, how many of these young people are or have ever been put behind bars, denied family visits for weeks on end, prevented from seeing a lawyer until the day of their trial, beaten up in prison, held in solitary confinement, etc, etc?
          Like so many others, you use the label ‘terrorist’ to excuse actions against children that are illegal, inhuman and which are ultimately intended not to improve Israel’s security but to help achieve ethnic cleansing and colonisation. Shame on you.

          Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            Or stone throwing during Yom Kippur.
            My friend who was new to the country, before sunset to Yom Kippur, was rushing back home because as we know no cars are suppose to be on the road. Well her car pretty much got stoned. So yes you are right, stone throwing is also something that the religious like to use as well to submit a population under religious observance.

            Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            So really following Trespasser’s logic, the Haredi and Ultra-orthodox population’s stone throwing is also a form of terrorism.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Swiss Mike

      interesting but, people please! on one side there is immodesty, and on the other self-satisfaction. Let’s be reasonable. Quit writing exactly what you believe in, what enforces your binding to your own identity and start being honest. Emotional intelligence vs analytical intelligence. You were surprised when Rabin was killed by internal “chosen people” israelis. So was I. And the other side today is surprised when more Syrians die in 2 years than in 40 years of Occupation. Admit it, in respect for your own intelligence. 
      Both sides show immodesty pretending that it could be better if just… If just what exactly? Who can pretend to know how to end the cultural-psychological-geopolitical blockage? Not arresting kids at all? Sending Palestinian kids to Australia? Stopping the occupation in 2 next months?
      Let’s say Israelis receive a 2500 billion $ check + a huge artificial island in the Pacific; let’s say 99% accept because they get extra money to leave ( it is commonly said that jews like money, so it might just work).   So they are 3000 jews left in Palestine . Israel entity is migrated to the Pacific. Done.
      Do you really think that it will make the condition of women and kids better in this region? For how long exactly? Based on which political reality? Based on which moral structure? Tribal values? Algerian political model?
      Emotions apart, you would make a link between Ola Abbas, Bassem Youssef even Salman Rushdie and what’s on the field there, instead of making dogmatic-emotional secretion like a weak patient.
      You don’t know if treating those kids better could save your own best friend in the coming years. You just don’t know if Bush junior legacy did not contribute positively to the “killing of the father”, hence the Arab political movements. You don’t know if a military intervention in Mali will have a good influence in the next 20 years.
      Would YOU be in charge, would you be so keen to judge and decide what is the right action to take for the next 20 years? Because most people will survive those 20 years and they will hold you accountable.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Shemtov Isaac

      1:35 did he just moon walk?

      Reply to Comment