Child Soldiers: Political advocacy, contradictory evidence and unverifiable claims
June 05, 2008
Analysis of submissions from Defence for Children International – Palestine section (DCI/PS) and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
“... so long as [my 15 year-old son] dies as a martyr, and on the condition that he takes Jews with him when he dies. I will be happy if he dies this way… We're happy to sacrifice our families to win this battle." Abu Hussein, leader of the Qassam Brigades in Gaza 1
Defence for Children International- Palestine Section (DCI/PS) is a member of the International Steering Committee of the "Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers" (“The Coalition”). The two organizations are cooperating to lobby EU officials and bodies on the rights of Palestinian children,2 including meetings with EU representatives in Brussels and Ljubljana. NGO Monitor’s detailed examination of the reports circulated by these organizations reveals consistent double standards that erase attacks against Israeli children; false and exaggerated claims; unverifiable “evidence,” often sourced to other NGOs which lack credibility; and politicized campaigning under the guise of human rights advocacy.
- DCI/PS emphasizes allegations of Israeli "willful killing", but completely erases terror attacks against Israeli children, such as in Sderot; in the March 6, 2008 attack in a Jerusalem educational institute, which killed 8 people, including 4 children, and many other examples.
- The Coalition claims that "There was no documented evidence of [Palestinian] child involvement in suicide bombings after 2004." However, another joint Coalition – DCI/PS document describes 2 cases in 2007 (30 August and 9 September) in which Palestinian children were caught on their way to carry out suicide bombings. B’tselem's list of Palestinian casualties includes 31 youths whose deaths were linked to involvement in terror and violence from December 2006 through March 2008. (See appendix to this report.)
- Many of the claims are not sourced and cannot be verified. Allegations of Israeli responsibility for the deaths of 5 children in Gaza are attributed to a widely discredited WHO report which is, in turn, based on false or biased NGO claims.
- The responsibility of Palestinian officials for active recruitment of children for violence, including the use of television programming, is strongly and systematically understated. The claim that "documenting recruitment of children by Palestinian armed groups remains a challenge" is inconsistent with the evidence.3
- In the 19 page "Compilation of current child rights violations in the oPt”, there is no mention of Palestinian terrorism and the extensive use of human shields, including children for protection. There is only one passive mention of the thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza aimed against Israeli civilians, including children.
- There is minimal discussion of the impact of Palestinian terrorism on Israeli children, including deaths and widespread trauma from continuous rocket attacks on southern towns. (Services to help traumatized children are mentioned briefly in the Global report).
A real concern for the welfare of children would have highlighted these dimensions.
[Click here for the appendix]
Defence for Children International – Palestine section (DCI/PS)4
DCI/PS claims that its mission is to focus on "promoting and protecting the rights of Palestinian children in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), as well as other international, regional and local standards."
In contrast, the activities of this group are highly politicized and selective, using the rhetoric of children’s rights to falsely accuse Israel as part of a broad Palestinian political campaign of demonization. As NGO Monitor’s detailed research has shown, DCI/PS has a history of anti-Israel political campaigning in the UN and other frameworks. In a statement to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on September 29, 2007 DCI/PS condemned Israel for “deliberate targeting of civilians” in Lebanon, "terrorizing the civilian population" in Gaza and "collective punishment."
The impact of intra-Palestinian violence on children was ignored. DCI/PS also continues to promote the myth of the “Jenin massacre” on its website, including a statement on the "horror" of the "Israeli army massacre in Jenin refugee camp" in 2002, despite widespread rejection of this narrative.
The Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers (The Coalition)
The Coalition's International Steering Committee is composed of a number of highly political NGOs, including: Amnesty International, Defence for Children International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation Terre des Hommes, International Save the Children Alliance, Jesuit Refugee Service, and the Quaker United Nations Office-Geneva. It maintains active links with UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Labour Organization. The national coalitions are "made up of local and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with or on behalf of child soldiers."
Analysis of DCI/PS and “Coalition” Documents
In March 2008, DCI/PS and The Coalition circulated drafts of reports and statements to European officials in Brussels in order to advance "the implementation of the EU Guidelines on Children and Armed conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."5 These documents include a "Compilation of current child rights violations in the oPt,"("Compilation"); "Background note;" "Draft Entries Israel and oPt for the forthcoming Child Soldiers Global Report 2008" ("Global Report"); "Recommendations for implementation of EU guidelines" ("Recommendations"); and "Procedural Recommendations for implementation of EU guidelines."
Many of these were marked "confidential", and were apparently not shown to Israeli government officials responsible for human rights issues for refutation.6
These documents included claims that were clearly false or exaggerated, as well as unverifiable examples, often sourced to other NGOs. As systematic NGO Monitor research has shown, the publications of UN bodies and NGOs that focus narrowly on Israel often apply double standards, lack credibility, and are based on unscientific research methods, such as eyewitness claims that cannot be verified, and selected media reports. In addition, the agenda reflects a strong political bias that is often associated with such campaigning under the guise of human rights.7
False and exaggerated claims
Highly selective agenda and removal of the context of terror in order to portray Israel as the aggressor
- In the "Global Report" the Coalition claims in three places that "There was no documented evidence of [Palestinian] child involvement in suicide bombings after 2004." This claim is sourced to "DCI-Palestine Section, 20 October 2007." However, another document -- DCI/PS and the Coalition's "Compilation" report -- describes 2 cases in 2007 (30 August and 9 September) in which Palestinian children were caught on their way to carry out suicide bombings. This claim also ignores repeated evidence that children have been involved in other planned terror and suicide attacks since 2004.8
- The Compilation strongly understates the responsibility of Palestinian officials for incitement aimed at recruitment of children for violence. The authors inaccurately claim that "documenting recruitment of children by Palestinian armed groups remains a challenge and the extent of the phenomenon is not well known;" "in rare cases, [children] have been used as combatants and suicide bombers in attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians" and "evidence of such practices is difficult to gather" [emphasis added]. In the 2 paragraphs in this 19 page report, which describe terrorist exploitation of Palestinian children, the language selected is very circumspect, in sharp contrast to massive evidence directly linking officials in this process, as detailed below.
Unverifiable examples, often sourced to other NGOs which lack credibility
- In the 19-page Compilation, there is very limited discussion of ongoing Palestinian terrorism,9 and only one passive mention of the thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza aimed against Israeli civilians, including children.10
- There is no mention of the Israeli child casualties, including 17 year old Ayala-Haya (Ella) Abukasis in January 2005 who was killed shielding her brother from rocket shrapnel in Sderot, or 10-year-old Yossi Haimov, who was seriously injured when a rocket landed near a school on February 25, 2007. The constant bombardment of southern Israeli towns, particularly during the morning while children are walking to their schools, has traumatized them, but this is entirely absent.
- Well-documented examples of extensive Palestinian indoctrination to promote child involvement in terrorism, including television programs, are mentioned only in passing. (In the "recruitment" section, the report attributes the majority of attacks carried out by children to “self-motivation” due to a family member’s death or “desperation”. There is no source for this claim, which minimizes the role of indoctrination.) The report also omits specific examples such as the programming in which a four-year-old girl vows to be suicide terrorist, as shown in the publications of Palestinian Media Watch. Similarly, MEMRI has published a detailed report on the use of children’s cartoons to promote child involvement in Palestinian terrorism.11 And in a number of detailed publications, the role of Palestinian parents in promoting childhood terrorism is documented in detail. In one example, Abu Hussein, a leader of the Qassam Brigades in Gaza, is quoted as stating that: “…. so long as [my son] dies as a martyr, and on the condition that he takes Jews with him when he dies. I will be happy if he dies this way… We're happy to sacrifice our families to win this battle."12 (See appendix for full details and additional examples.)
- In a graphic description of an IDF operation in Gaza designed to stop rocket attacks on Israeli civilians,13 the Compilation (page 4) erases the context of terrorism and the deliberate use of Palestinian civilians, including children, as human shields. For example, in one of many documented examples of the systematic use of children as an integral part of the Palestinian military strategy14, Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV on March 1, 2008, called upon children to form a human shield at the home of Abu al-Hatal of the a-Shouqaf quarter of Sajaiyeh in order to protect the building from an anticipated IDF air strike.15 This is not included in the report.
- The brief mention that 3 children were directly involved as combatants is brushed over, and the emphasis is on condemning Israel for reports of "unnecessary and disproportionate use of force" and "willful killing of children," again with no sources or systematic criteria provided.
- Despite the claim that "More Palestinian children were killed last year  in internal fighting than in any other year since the beginning of the conflict," the attention devoted to internal Palestinian violence is much less than to accusations against Israel
Politicized campaigning under the guise of human rights advocacy:
- The footnotes in the Compilation and the Global Report demonstrate a consistent reliance on other NGOs, whose reports have been shown to lack credibility, and other sources with a strong political agenda. For example, there is repetition of claims by DCI/PS, Al Haq, B'tselem, UN OCHA and Yesh Din (See NGO Monitor website for detailed analyses of the deficiencies of these organizations).
- Although the Global Report does include a discussion of the impact of terrorism on Israeli children, it also includes an allegation that "By the 11th-12th grade (age 16 up) students were ‘saturated with the idea of enlistment [to the army]’ through a range of promotional events and material."16 The source for this is the New Profile NGO -- a fringe group with a strong political agenda.
- In the Compilation, many of the claims alleging mistreatment of Palestinian minors by Israel lack context, are not sourced and cannot be verified.17 Claims of Israeli responsibility for the deaths of 5 children in Gaza are attributed to a widely discredited WHO report which is, in turn, based on false NGO claims.18
Many of the DCI/PS and Coalition claims reflect double standards and strong political bias, while ignoring the context of terror
- The DCI/PS "Recommendations" to the EU focus entirely on allegations against Israel, while remaining silent in the face of the willful targeting of Israeli children. In the March 6, 2008 attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva school, a terrorist opened fire in a library in which many teenagers were studying. 8 people were killed, including 4 children: Yehonatan Yitzhak Alder aged 16, Neria Cohen aged 15, Segev Peniel Avihail aged 15, and Avraham David Mozes aged 16. On January 25, 2008, Palestinians attacked the Makor Chaim High School in Kfar Etzion, and there are many other examples.
- In promoting its agenda, the Compilation report erases important information from the Global Report, such as the passing mention of Hamas-run "schools, nurseries and clinics for children…. [which] were understood to include a component of propaganda, [and] children’s programs [which] included political content and some glorification of ‘martyrdom’. This description also strongly understates the dangerous practices by which many Palestinian children are prepared for "martyrdom" (see appendix).
- In contrast, the accusations against Israel are strident, despite the absence of evidence to substantiate the allegations. The Compilation claims that Israel commits:
"systematic violations of IHRL and IHL: -
These phrases reflect the prime political motive of these NGOs, including terms such as "indiscriminate" attacks, "arbitrary arrest", "collective punishment," and repetition of NGO jargon which refers to the separation barrier as the "Wall".
- The systematic approval of indiscriminate attacks by Israeli military commanders;
- The systematic and legalised use of lethal force (instead of arrest) against unarmed civilians who do not pose immediate danger;
- A policy of mass and arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinians for security reasons (sometimes undisclosed);
- The use of collective punishment measures;
- The construction of the Wall …"
- In addition, Israeli actions are portrayed as aggressive, and Palestinian as defensive or accidental:"[Israeli] military commanders systematically approve indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks which they know will result in civilian casualties." [emphasis added]. This contrasts to "incidents in which children are killed by Palestinians armed groups appear to be accidental, resulting from reckless exchange of fire between armed groups in civilian areas, and misuse of weapons," [emphasis added] and even this analysis is not taken to its logical conclusion – a condemnation of Palestinian terrorists for operating from within civilian areas.
- This material promotes the rejectionist Palestinian narrative of "dispossession and oppression,"19 and frequently lauds "resistance."20
The rights of children in conflict, issues related to recruitment of child soldiers and terrorists, and the involvement of children in “asymmetric war” is a central moral issue, and it should not be devalued or exploited for ideological or political conflict. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that these reports and the wider advocacy campaign do precisely this.
- In the "Recommendations" to the EU, Israelis are accused of "attacks" on schools and hospitals, while Palestinian "armed groups [they are never referred to as terrorists] perform "military operations" in these locations. The use of schools in Gaza for rocket attacks, which has been documented in detail,21 is also erased.
- The document recommends that the EU engage with all sides "to ensure that children are not recruited or used in the conflict," but the only specific instruction refers to Israel "coerce[ing] or entic[ing] [children] to become informants." There is no request for the EU to pressure the Palestinians to stop involving children in combat22, nor to cease using television and other mediums for incitement of children to terrorism.
In light of the evidence presented in this report, NGO Monitor recommends that the EU view these reports by DCI/PS and "The Coalition to stop the use of child soldiers" as invalid. NGOs can play an important role in protecting children's rights in areas of conflict and in developing democracies; but they also have a responsibility to the universality of human rights, and have no right to repeat false claims and exploit moral rhetoric in promoting a political agenda that minimizes violence against Israeli children and absolves the Palestinian leadership of responsibility to end incitement.
[Click here for the appendix]
1 "The overlooked consequences of Hamas's actions," Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker, September 11, 2006
2 Extensive lobbying by DCI/PS and the Coalition in 2007 was important in getting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict onto the priority list of "EU Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict" in December 2007, making it a priority of the EU Working Group on Human Rights (COHOM). See "Implementing the EU Guidelines on Children and Armed conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Background Note," DCI/PS and The Coalition, Brussels (10-16 March 2008).
3 See "Palestinians exploit children for terror – Background," 10 March, 2004, Israeil Ministry of Foreign Affaris
4 DCI/PS does not list its current donors on its website. Its most recent annual report (covering 2004) includes the following donors: International Commission of Jurists – Sweden; Save the Children-Sweden; Netherlands Representative – Ramallah; UNICEF; French Consulate Jerusalem; Canada Fund for Local Initiatives; European Commission; British Council, Jerusalem; Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).
5 DCI/PS Background Note
6 Responding to NGO Monitor's queries, Israeli government officials said that they had not seen these materials.
7 The role of political NGOs is illustrated in the "Compilation of current child rights violations in the oPt", which was written by a "working group," established in May 2007. Its members include the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), UNICEF, as well as NGOs including Al Haq, B’Tselem, DCI/PS and Save the Children UK. This group has reported four times (in May, July and October 2007 and in January 2008) to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
8 See "Boy carrying 5 bombs detained", Ynet News, April 12, 2005; "Teen bombers detained", Ynet News, June 15, 2005; "Palestinian teen ferried two bombs", Ynet News, June 7, 2005 and "Boy pressed to carry out attack", Ynet News, October 12, 2005.
9 The words "terrorism" or "terrorist" are never used, and terrorist attacks are often characterized as military operations
10 The Compilation at page 17 states "Israel has indicated that the increase in military attacks and the severity of the blockade came in response to the continuing firing of rockets from Gaza."
11 "Four-year-old girl vows to be suicide terrorist in Hamas TV dramatization," Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, Palestinian Media Watch, March 21, 2007; and "New Animated Film on Hamas TV Focuses on Child Martyrdom," MEMRI special dispatch series no. 1742, October 16, 2007
12 "The overlooked consequences of Hamas's actions," Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker, September 11, 2006
13 See "Stream of NGO condemnations of Israel's Gaza policy continues - HRW, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Christian Aid and Gisha," NGO Monitor Digest, March 6, 2008.
14 See Gerald M. Steinberg, "Child Sacrifice," Jerusalem Post, Oct. 27, 2000; Justus Reid Weiner, “The use of Palestinian Children in the Al-Aqsa Intifada”, Jerusalem Letter / Viewpoints No. 441, Jerusalem Center for Public Afffairs, 1 November 2000
15 Hamas exploitation of civilians as human shields: Photographic evidence. MFA (Israel) March 6, 2008
16 Global Report page 2.
17 For example, see Compilation page 3, 5, 7
18 NGO Monitor, WHO report based on unreliable and false NGO claims; “Abuse of Israel's Humanitarian Policy for the Purpose of Terrorist Activity”, 20 Jan 2008; Israeli Security Agency (ISA)
19 See Compilation page 15: "For Palestinians, a population whose experience has been characterised by dispossession and oppression, the significance of education goes beyond mere learning – like refugee communities elsewhere"
20 See Compilation, page 9, "This rise is consistent with the increase in the use of administrative detention orders against Palestinian adults in what appears to be an effort to stifle political descent and repress resistance to the occupation" and page 15, "Intellectual knowledge is linked to resistance and survival; education is viewed as a means of combating the occupation and mitigating the effects of the occupation"
21 Examples include "Ban Ki-moon condemns rocket attack from Gaza school run by UN agency," UN News Centre, November 8, 2007; "Terrorists fire mortars from UNRWA boys' school in Gaza, October 31, 2007," Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
22 See "Hamas using children to collect weapons from dead gunmen as IDF holds fire," IMRA, Wednesday, March 5, 2008. Also B'tselem reported that 3 children (aged 15, 16 and 17) were killed on May 19, 2007 while "attempting to collect Qassam rocket launchers with two friends." Palestinian minors killed by Israeli security forces in the Occupied Territories. There are many more examples (see appendix)