Throughout 2018, NGO Monitor documented numerous concerns regarding UNICEF-oPt (UNICEF’s branch in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza) stemming primarily from its relationship with highly partisan non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Problems include funding for and projects with NGOs that violate the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality; failure to monitor and report on the recruitment and use of children by Palestinian armed groups; and an overall bias towards Israel.
Worst of these concerns is UNICEF-oPt’s partnerships with NGOs that have close ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group – designated as such by Canada, the EU, the US, and Israel. Defense for Children International – Palestine’s (DCI-P), one of these groups, information is regularly parroted by UNICEF despite significant factual inaccuracies and obscuring of data (see NGO Monitor’s reports No Way to Represent a Child: Defense for Children International – Palestine’s Distortions of the Israeli Justice System and The Origins of “No Way to Treat a Child” for details). Another group is Addameer. Both of these associations not only violate humanitarian principles and international and domestic laws, but they compromise UNICEF and donor funding, and potentially place already vulnerable Palestinian children at risk for recruitment.
In addition to NGO Monitor’s analysis, discussions in parliaments in Canada and Europe, and critical press further highlighted these concerns about UNICEF. Nevertheless, UNICEF-oPt has not publically stated that it will end its partnerships with terror-linked NGOs and politicized organizations. Until UNICEF-oPt distances itself from these terror-affiliated groups, its credibility as a humanitarian organization remains in question.
Grave Violations “Target” Removed from Situation Reports
In January-March 2018 situation report, UNICEF-oPt notably removed the “grave violation target.” For years, UNICEF-oPt has maintained a “target” number of “grave violations” that the organization and its partners are supposed to document. NGO Monitor informed UNICEF-oPt directly that this practice incentivizes NGOs to baselessly accuse Israel of crimes in order to meet reporting quotas. The removal of this target is a positive step.
Joint Statement Regarding Violence along Israel-Gaza Border
In other developments, on August 1, 2018, “Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory” Jamie McGoldrick, head of the “UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in oPt” James Heenan, and “UNICEF Special Representative in State of Palestine” Genevieve Boutin issued a statement regarding the violence along the Israel-Gaza border. While the statement briefly acknowledges the effects of conflict on both Palestinian and Israeli children, including noting the psychological trauma suffered by Israeli children due to indiscriminate Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza, it nonetheless fails to hold Hamas or the PA accountable for initiating the violence and countless violations of human rights and humanitarian law.
In particular, the statement notably decries incitement, but minimizes on-going, widespread, and systematic Palestinian incitement that targets children in the West Bank and Gaza and encourages violence and antisemitism. Instead of clearly condemning this incitement, the statement instead includes Israel in the condemnation: “We deplore the too often cynical use of children in political rhetoric and propaganda on all sides.”
Further, the press release calls on all parties to the conflict “to put children’s rights ahead of any other considerations and to take immediate steps to alleviate their suffering.” This statement, issued in August after four months of employing Palestinian children as human shields and combatants, should have been issued much earlier. Additionally, the statement fails to acknowledge the overall context of violence and terrorism under which the “demonstrations” have taken place, and accuses Israel alone as responsible for the deaths of Palestinian children supposedly killed during Israeli “shelling.”
Canada Dedicates Funds to Oversight
NGO Monitor also notes that in its July 29, 2018 announcement of new funding for Palestinians, Canada significantly will designate $700,000 for independent “monitoring and evaluation” of its programs, a majority of which will be implemented by UN agencies, including UNICEF. Canada also included a clear oversight clause in the grant announcement, noting that the measures “are in place to ensure that funds are not misused or diverted to terrorist groups.” NGO Monitor will follow this new funding closely to ensure that the new level of oversight takes place and whether the NGOs selected to work with the UN institutions adhere to the outlined principles.