Advocacy Instead of Research: NGO Propaganda Campaigns to Blacklist the IDF at the UN
The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) “Save the Children” and “Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict” again published reports as part of the ongoing political campaigns to demonize Israel and have Israel included on a UN blacklist of “grave” violators of children’s rights. In the process, neither NGO applies the accepted UN definitions of what constitutes such violations, and the reports reflect major methodological shortcomings.
The UN and other actors should therefore reject these recommendations in their entirety.
Every year, anti-Israel advocacy NGOs lobby the UN Secretary-General to include the IDF on the list of the world’s worst violators of children’s rights.
The goal of such campaigns and publications is to trigger UN Security Council sanctions against Israel, through the listing of the IDF in the annex to the UN Secretary-General’s annual report (see NGO Monitor’s analysis, “UNICEF and its NGO Working Group”).
In order for a party to the conflict to be listed in the Annex, the group must be found to be systematically violating at least one of five “trigger” “grave violations” of the Rights of the Child. These include “recruitment and use,” “killing and maiming,” “rape and other forms of sexual violence against children,” “attacks on schools and hospitals,” and “abduction of children.”1
In the publication titled “Danger is Our Reality: The impact of conflict and the occupation on education in the West Bank of the occupied Palestinian territory,” Save the Children alleges that Israel is guilty of “attacks on education” – which, even if it were accurate, is not one of the grave violations. Similarly, Watchlist (an NGO umbrella group led by Human Rights Watch) irresponsibly and falsely claims that Israel “kills and maims” Palestinians and is possibly guilty of attacks on schools and hospitals.
Save the Children’s publication notes that its “vital work” is “only possible thanks to the generous support of many donors. Particular thanks are due to UNICEF, Education Cannot Wait, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the European Union, and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.”2 Such funding marks a continuing pattern in which UNICEF and governmental grants are used to demonize Israel and promote sanctions.
Watchlist is an NGO umbrella group with NGO members including Human Rights Watch (HRW), World Vision, Defense for Children International, and Terre Des Hommes. Watchlist “is a fiscally sponsored program of United Charitable, a not-for-profit organization.” In 2018, Watchlist’s total revenue was $674,689 and its total expenses were $685,055. Over 60% of Watchlist’s revenue was made up of “government grants,” from “Australia, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.” Watchlist also recognizes “the contributions of a major anonymous donor.”
Invented Definitions of Violations
Both NGOs take major liberties with what they portray as violations of the Rights of the Child.
Save the Children and “Attacks on Schools”
Save the Children’s report is premised on major distortion for the purpose of demonization.
The UN’s Guidance Note for attacks on schools (Guidance Note on Security Council Resolution 1998) requires that an incident must bear a “clear link” to education to be considered an attack on a school. The Guidance Note explains that a teacher targeted on his/her way to school would be a “listing violation,” but “where it is not possible to determine the link between the attack and the targeted person’s role as a provider of education or health care, the incident should not be included as an attack on related protected person.” Threats against schools must be specifically “directed toward a particular individual or group of persons related to the seeking or provision of education or health care.”
In contrast, Save the Children ignores the UN definition and applies a looser “definition” invented by a group of NGOs (including Save the Children) known as the “Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack” (GCPEA).3
Then, Save the Children notes that it sidestepped this invented definition in its analysis, admitting that “many of the incidents that children reported to us fall outside this definition, for example incidents relating to heavily armed military or settlers that make them feel unsafe in the classroom, or on their way to and from school. However, we give them equal weight and representation in this report” (emphasis added). In other words, precise assessment is a façade – the objective is clearly political advocacy.
Watchlist on “Killing and Maiming”
Watchlist alleges “killing and maiming” in accusing the IDF of violating the rights of the child. However many of the incidents mentioned in its report do not constitute a listing violation. The UN definition recognizes the principles of distinction and proportionality in establishing whether or not an attack is to be considered deliberate or not. The definition also notes that serious injury refers to “torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and mutilation.”
Watchlist, in sharp contrast, includes tear gas – a non-lethal crowd control method – in its analysis of killing and maiming. It also does not take into account the laws of armed conflict, and instead includes incidents of Palestinian children killed in the context of violent riots and attacks targeting military objectives. In one instance, Watchlist implies that Israel deliberately and illegally targeted children “in retaliation,” describing children accidentally killed alongside their terrorist parents as, “The Israel Defense Force (IDF) reportedly killed two Palestinian children when it launched airstrikes in retaliation for projectiles launched from Gaza towards Israel.” There is no mention of the systematic use by Palestinian terror groups of children as human shields.
Notably, Watchlist does not discuss a May 4, 2019 incident where a Palestinian missile, aimed at Israeli civilians, misfired, landed in Gaza, and killed an infant.
Save the Children
Save the Children commits a number of egregious methodological errors in its effort to falsely allege that “Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) are some of the riskiest places for children to go to school.” Specifically:
- Non-representative sample: Save the Children states outright that its report is based on interviews that do not represent a “statistically significant or representative sample” and that it specifically selected children “from 17 schools that have experience the highest number of education-related violations over the past two years.”
- No independent verification of incidents: Save the Children notes that it did not independently verify the incidents.
- Limiting scope condition: Save the Children admits that it ignored salient information that did not reinforce its anti-Israel agenda: “strained relations between schools and parents, bullying and violence – either at home or at school” fell “outside the primary focus of this report.”
- Reliance on biased and problematic sources: In its discussion of Palestinian children in detention, Save the Children relies on non-credible from Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P). Numerous individuals with alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization have been employed and appointed as board members at DCI-P (see NGO Monitor’s report).
- Leading questions: Save the Children does not provide a full list of the interview questions asked, but it does state that it asked children about “the factors that make them feel unsafe when at school or when travelling to and from school…” and “which types of attacks they have experienced at their schools.”
Watchlist simply restates and amalgamates “publically available reports” published by UN and NGO sources, providing no original content and minimal analysis. There is no information on how the credibility of these reports is evaluated, if at all, or on criteria for including or excluding sources. Additionally, the disproportionately large number of NGOs publishing information on Israel arbitrarily inflate the number of reported violations.
- The remaining “grave violation,” “denial of humanitarian access to children,” does not result in listing in the annex of the UN Secretary General’s report.
- Throughout its report, Save the Children lobbies for additional funding to “education needs” in the West Bank, claiming that “chronic shortfalls” exist, and acknowledges its intention to inform “donor funding decisions.” Save the Children does not indicate whether it would receive some of these funds, nor does it address concerns that significant funding for “education” actually goes to advocacy (see NGO Monitor’s report “EAPPI: The World Council of Churches’ Training Camp for Anti-Israel Advocacy”).
- GCPEA defines attacks on education as any intentional threat or use of force – carried out for political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic, religious, or criminal reasons – against students, educators and education institutions.”