Israel was trying to reduce violations prior to being put on UN ‘list of shame’
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres briefs reporters on the situation in Gaza on May 7, 2024. Photo: Mark Garten/U.N. Photo

A senior U.N. official told JNS there have been ongoing discussions for a year-and-a-half between the global body and Israel to develop a plan to reduce violations and explain actions.

By Mike Waggenheim
June 14, 2024

(JNS) The Jewish state agreed in late 2022 to develop an action plan to reduce harm against Palestinian children, but even that wasn’t enough to keep Israeli security forces off the 2023 so-called United Nations “list of shame,” a senior U.N. official told JNS this week.

Briefing reporters ahead of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’s release of the report on children and armed conflict on Thursday, the senior official said that the United Nations has not engaged directly with the Israeli government since it became public last Friday that Israeli armed and security forces would be part of the list for the first time.

“Frankly, to this day, we don’t know what the reaction will be of Israel,” the senior U.N. official told reporters. “There is no formal reaction yet in any way, or any demarche, or any letter.”

“All we know is what you’ve seen last Friday,” the official said, referring to the publication by Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, of a recording of his call with Guterres’s chief of staff, informing him that Israel would be blacklisted.

The report released on Thursday includes a note from Guterres that the Israeli government offered on May 28 to engage with Virginia Gamba, the U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict, to develop an action plan to reduce violations against children.

Gamba carries a U.N. Security Council mandate to monitor, prevent and report on such violations. The annual report was sent to Security Council members on Tuesday.

The senior official who briefed reporters told JNS that Gamba has had many past engagements with Israeli government officials and entities, and in late 2022, the Israeli government sent a letter saying it had agreed to commence the action plan process.

“So, there is an active engagement,” the senior official said. “It’s never been like a break in the engagement.”

The senior U.N. official said that on May 28, an Israeli official, whose name the senior official could not recall, sent a letter to Gamba “with a written commitment that they wish to explore this development of the plan with us.”

The senior official said that Israel’s U.N. mission also sent a letter on June 3 “saying that they would be very interested in pursuing what would look like a framework for such an arrangement.”

Since Erdan’s leaked recording, “there’s been silence,” the senior official said. “I don’t know if these offers continue to stand or not.”

The senior official said that Guterres “always recognizes as progress by parties to conflict whether they are listed” in the report or “if there are overtures of this nature.”

The senior official told JNS that the only way for the Jewish state to be removed from the list is to agree with the United Nations on an action plan and then demonstrate a verifiable decrease in the violations for which Israel was placed on the list.

“You have to show, quarter by quarter, a significant decrease that can prove that the measures that were decided are being put in place,” the senior official said. “So, the sum of the political commitment, plus the significant decrease in the right direction, can be considered by the secretary-general for the listing possibility.”

The senior official said that last year, Guterres made a decision, which is noted in the 2022 Children And Armed Conflict report, to strengthen and broaden the working group covering the Palestinian-controlled territories to better include violations against Israeli children.

“For many years, there seemed to be less interest in Israeli children cases. They were still reported, they were verified, but there was less information about them,” the official said.

In the months before Oct. 7, the monitoring team in the region was expanded with one Hebrew speaker added as a result of Guterres’s 2022 mandate.

The 2023 Children And Armed Conflict report includes a figure of some 3,900 Israel children harmed on Oct. 7. The senior official said that the figure has yet to be verified.

“There will be late verification for sure because a lot of them are highly traumatized, and none of them have come back to live in their communities because the communities have been destroyed,” the senior official said.

The senior official added that it was impossible in some instances to verify abuse of children who were killed on Oct. 7, due to the state of the bodies as a result of the attack, including charred remains.

The report includes, for the first time, notations about violations by Jewish residents in Judea and Samaria, and parts of Jerusalem, which are termed “Israeli settlers” in the report. The “settlers,” however, are not designated as a party that commits grave violations against children.

Asked about the non-listing of settlers as a group committing violations, even though they are mentioned in the report, the senior official said, “I think it’s a matter of time.”

“The important issue is that the setters are an actor, are a party to conflict, but that does not mean that they are listed,” the senior official said. “Not everyone is listed, but at least it’s a recognized actor, and I think that is a big change from, let’s say, six, seven years ago.”

Guterres blacklisted the Israeli military and security forces, Hamas’s Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade and affiliated factions, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quads Brigades.

“I am appalled by the dramatic increase and unprecedented scale and intensity of grave violations against children in the Gaza Strip, Israel,” and Judea and Samaria, Guterres wrote in the report.

Known as the “list of shame,” the document is intended to embarrass those designated on the list into performing corrective action with regards to their alleged violations against children, including killing, maiming, recruitment, abduction, sexual violence, denial of humanitarian assistance and attacks against schools and hospitals.

In the report, which covers the 2023 calendar year, the United Nations said it verified 8,009 grave violations against Israeli and Palestinian children but that the verification process has been hampered due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The report said the Israel-Hamas war led to a 155% increase in what it categorized as “grave violations” against children.

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