UN chief encourages Israel to kill more Palestinian children

Ali Abunimah 

The Electronic Intifada  /  June 29, 2023

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is encouraging Israel to kill and maim more Palestinian children.

Of course he would not put it that way himself, but that’s the only conclusion one can reach from his decision – yet again – to omit Israel from the UN’s “list of shame” which names grave abusers of children’s rights during armed conflict.

The consternation at this clearly biased decision was palpable even among journalists at the Tuesday launch of the secretary-general’s annual report by Virginia Gamba, his special representative for children and armed conflict.

“Countries that recorded the highest numbers of grave violations in 2022 were the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel and the state of Palestine, Somalia, Ukraine and Syria, while the countries that faced the worst deterioration were Myanmar, South Sudan and Burkina Faso,” Gamba said.

And yet, she noted that “in Israel and the state of Palestine, the secretary-general did not list any parties to the conflict.”

In fact Israel is the only country among those top violators (Palestine is not top violator but a victim) which does not appear on the list.

But Gamba did quote Guterres’ report from last year, in which the UN chief warned that “should substantial airstrikes and rockets resulting from the May 2021 escalation of hostilities repeat itself in 2022, parties to the conflict should be listed.”

Of course Israel’s attacks on Gaza did repeat themselves – in August 2022 – and in May 2023 and yet Israel has again escaped accountability.

Fooling no one

Gamba made a brave attempt to – pardon my French – bullshit her way through journalists’ questions. You can watch the video here:

Challenged by Al Jazeera’s James Bays on why Guterres had failed to list Israel this year despite last year’s warning, Gamba replied, “I think it has to do with both the engagement and the numbers.”

According to Gamba, the fact that Israel bombed Gaza a mere 52 times in 2022 as compared with almost 600 times in 2021 was a praiseworthy improvement.

She had also patted Israel on the back for gestures such as an “exchange of letters, the appointment of focal points by all parties and the identification of practical measures” to reduce grave violations of children’s rights.

These are the kinds of stalling tactics Israel has used for decades to humor the UN.

Israel has killed at least 30 children so far this year, Defense for Children International-Palestine has calculated.

“I still don’t understand. They’re still killing children in huge numbers,” Bays shot back at Gamba. “Just because the figures in 2021 were more dreadful because the war lasted slightly longer – and I know your report is only supposed to be for 2022 – but you have the benefit of knowing what is coming and you could have sent a clear warning, a clear signal to Israel that might have saved children’s lives by putting them on the list.”

It is particularly shocking and reprehensible that Gamba attempted to spin 2022 as a year of significant improvement in Israel’s murderous behavior towards Palestinian children.

In fact, according to Defense for Children International-Palestine, 2022 “was particularly deadly for Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”

And as noted, there has been no let-up in Israeli brutality in 2023.

Despite this, Gamba asserted that “we have to give time for the measures we have agreed – both sides have agreed to implement this year.”

Bays responded, no doubt speaking for many: “So we’ll just give them time shall we and let more children die in the meantime?”

Gamba was unable to come up with any coherent explanation for UN leniency towards Israel, especially given how the UN has handled accusations against Russia and Ukraine.

This year Russia was added to the list of shame over alleged violations during the war in Ukraine, the first time a permanent member of the UN Security Council has ever been listed.

Gamba also noted that while Ukraine has not been added to the list, the secretary-general “decided to also warn the Ukrainian armed forces … owing to the high number of children killed and maimed and of attacks on schools and hospitals attributed to them.”

Russia was listed and Ukraine was warned even though Gamba acknowledged that both countries had also engaged intensively with her and taken steps that had already reduced the number of alleged violations.

For Israel, though, sending a letter and other gimmicks were apparently more than enough to avoid being included on the list of shame despite remaining one of the world’s worst violators of children’s rights according to the UN’s own reporting.

Gamba didn’t fool the journalists at the press conference and nor is she fooling anyone else.

“Israel’s continued omission from the list of shame does a grave disservice to Palestinian children,” writes Jo Becker, from Human Rights Watch.

Becker notes that the secretary-general’s report “found Israeli forces responsible for 975 child casualties and 110 attacks on schools and hospitals in 2022.”

And between 2015-2020, the UN attributed over 6,700 Palestinian child casualties to Israeli forces.

“While the secretary-general has never included Israel in his list, he has included other forces or groups responsible for far fewer violations,” Becker added.


Back in 2015, Ban Ki-moon, then the UN secretary-general, caved in to American and Israeli pressure and removed Israel from the list of shame for 2014 – the year Israel killed more than 550 Palestinian children in its attack on Gaza that summer.

That sent a clear message and precedent that Ban’s successor has dutifully followed.

Ban was in Palestine this month along with Mary Robinson, the former Irish president and UN human rights chief. Both are members of The Elders, a group of former leaders founded by Nelson Mandela to promote peace, justice and human rights.

Following their visit, Robinson and Ban reported that they “saw for themselves some of the facts on the ground, and heard from Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations about the ever-growing evidence that the situation meets the international legal definition of apartheid.”

The two leaders noted that they “heard no detailed rebuttal of the evidence of apartheid,” and affirmed that the declarations and policies of Israel’s government “clearly show an intent to pursue permanent annexation rather than temporary occupation, based on Jewish supremacy.”

One of the early acts of António Guterres, who succeeded Ban as UN chief, was to withdraw a landmark 2017 report detailing how Israel commits the crime of apartheid against the entire Palestinian people.

That finding of apartheid has since been widely confirmed by global and local human rights organizations.

Unfortunately neither Ban nor Guterres showed much courage in facing up to Israel’s crimes while in office.

Perhaps Guterres will join The Elders when he retires and begin to finally admit the truths he is now suppressing.

By then, of course, it will be far too late for Guterres’ views to matter and many more Palestinian children will have been killed – thanks to the impunity and cover provided by his cowardly exclusion of Israel from the list of shame.

Ali Abunimah  is Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books)