Belgium abets Israel’s crimes by silencing its critics

Children play in front of an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank city of Al-Khalil-Hebron (ActiveStills)

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  February 29, 2020

Things are very wrong at the United Nations if serial violators of international law can bully member states into disinviting human rights defenders from addressing the Security Council.

That is what happened when Belgium caved in to Israeli pressure and effectively barred Brad Parker from describing grave abuses of Palestinian children’s rights at the UN body this week.

Parker, an American lawyer who works with Defense for Children International Palestinerecounts what happened in an article he wrote for +972 Magazine.

In January, Parker was invited by Belgium, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, to brief its members on Israeli violations of Palestinian children’s rights in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Parker “gladly accepted,” given that “civil society space” at the UN for local Palestinian groups like the one he represents “has been shrinking for years.”

Israeli diplomats soon mobilized to pressure Belgium to rescind the invitation and prevent Parker from speaking. Israel’s foreign ministry twice summoned a Belgian diplomat to formally request that Parker be disinvited.

Then came a political and media smear campaign that portrayed Parker as a “radical” and his organization as affiliated with terror – an allegation Israeli officials frequently lob at Palestinian human rights groups and their staff to undermine their advocacy work.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN even wrote a letter to the UN secretary-general describing Defense for Children International Palestine as “an arm of the [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] in order to enact diplomatic terror against Israel.”

A few days before his scheduled appearance at the 24 February session of the Security Council, Parker received a phone call informing him that the event was changed from an open to a closed meeting and that Parker’s presence was no longer required.

Belgium avoided appearing as though it had officially rescinded its invitation to Parker while ensuring that his briefing wouldn’t be heard.

A win for Israel

It was a win for Israel’s campaign of defamation against Palestinian human rights organizations challenging its impunity. It was a blow against efforts to uphold Palestinian children’s rights.

As Parker recounts, “no evidence is presented on how DCIP’s work — our field research, documentation, legal services, and advocacy — is in any way involved in supporting terrorist acts.”

Had he been allowed to speak, Parker says he would have “explained how Palestinian children are disproportionately affected by armed conflict at the hands of Israeli forces.”

He also would have stated that “the persistent failure of the UN secretary-general to hold Israel accountable has fostered impunity for such grave violations against children.”

Parker would have called for Israel to be included in the secretary-general’s annual child rights “list of shame.”

Secretary-General António Guterres, as well as his predecessor Ban Ki-moon, have deferred to Israeli and American pressure and omitted Israel from that list.

The Belgian government asserts that the country is determined to use its time on the Security Council to “make the protection of children in armed conflict a priority.”

The state claims its focus is “walking the talk” and “implementing what’s been decided.”

But that determination to put children’s lives first evaporates when it comes to exposing and stopping Israel’s abuses.

UN’s Israel exception

Israel has long enjoyed an exception at the UN for its rights abuses, even as Israel and its supporters habitually claim that it is unfairly singled out.

That exception saw the unexplained, years-long delay of the release of a database of companies involved in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The database, which the UN Human Rights Council was mandated to publish by March 2017, was only released this month.

Despite the delay, the database still inexplicably omits numerous companies complicit in Israel’s violations.

Plenty of other efforts at the UN concerning Israel and the Palestinians have not been met with meaningful action.

One year ago, a UN independent commission of inquiry published its findings on Israel’s use of lethal force against the mass protests in Gaza dubbed the Great March of Return.

More than 200 Palestinian civilians, including more than 40 children, have been killed during those demonstrations since they began in early 2018. Thousands more have been injured.

The commission stated that Israel may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity by using lethal military force against unarmed protesters. “These violations clearly warrant criminal investigation and prosecution,” the head of the commission said.

The commission’s report urges UN member states to consider sanctions, travel bans and asset freezes on those responsible for crimes and to arrest or extradite “persons alleged to have committed, or who ordered to have committed, the international crimes.”

However, as the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq stated this week, that commission of inquiry “is only one in a long line of investigatory mechanisms” initiated by the UN “which have yet to yield tangible results in the pursuit of justice and accountability.”

There have been 10 such commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions concerning Palestine over the past decade, yet “no recommendations have ever been implemented,” Al-Haq added.

“Yet, this same number of mechanisms has been used to criticize this body as being disproportionately focused on Israeli practices, while ignoring other violations around the world.”

And so those violations go on, and more Palestinian children are killed, with their abusers rest assured they will suffer little consequence.

As Parker states, this “lack of political will” by third states like Belgium “ensures systemic impunity will remain the norm for Palestinian children.”

Maureen Clare Murphy is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago