BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE UN
OFFICIAL SPEAKS WITH ISRAELI, PALESTINIAN AND LEBANESE CHILDREN --- CONCLUSION: "KNOCK DOWN THE WALL"
By Naomi Farrell
UNITED NATIONS (WUP)---It is customary for the UN to send "Special Representatives of the Secretary-General" on fact finding missions for short periods of time to provide official reports of their findings to the Security Council or General Assembly. These reports are taken seriously as the facts on the ground. The representatives often cover many areas, sometimes a few hours at a time, usually in a hurry to catch a plane to their next place of inspection or interview. One wonders about the accuracy of such reports.!
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, briefed correspondents on her two-week fact-finding mission to Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, where she assessed the effects of the region’s ongoing conflict on its children.
Many of her observations and interviews were quite realistic, insightful and genuine, but some conclusions had an element of naivity.She spent most of her visit interacting with children in schools, villages and community centers. There was a video link with Gaza because it was not safe for her to go there. She said that she was disturbed by the expressions of anger and desire for revenge coupled with hopelessness in the Palestinian children she spoke with. She quoted Ghandi telling them, “An eye for an eye makes people blind.” They responded that they didn’t agree with her, saying that they believed that “an eye for an eye” is right. She raised concerns about the use of minors for political and armed violence. She had listened to many children who spoke of being engaged in such violence.
On the other hand, the Israeli children the Special Representative spoke with expressed their desire for peace. Over 30% of children in Northern Israel, some as young as two years old suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to research conducted there,” she added.
In the Palestinian Territories,the Special Representative met with President Abbas and Dr. Rafiq Husseine, Chief of Staff of President’s office and spoke with Dr. Ziyad Abu Amr, Minister of Foreign Affairs. She raised concerns about the use of minors of political and armed violence. She told them that she had listened to many children who spoke of being engaged in such violence. She welcomed the response of President Abbas and Foreign Minister Abu Amr to adjust the code of conduct among Palestinian groups not to involve children in political violence and to engage with theUnited Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to devise a plan of action to prevent the use of children in such violence. She also noted the need to ensure security for children both in the Palestinian Authority and Israel as well as the need to stop rockets being fired indiscriminately into civilian areas from Gaza.
Ms. Coomaraswamy, a Sri-Lankan lawyer and long-time human rights advocate, met with leading officials in Israel including the Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Supreme Court President Dorit Baynish. In their discussions she had focused on ways that communities could preserve the psychological well-being of children, as the region struggled to manage the ongoing violence.
While in Israel, for example, she had pushed for the use of restorative justice when treating young Palestinian offenders guilty of minor offences such as stone-throwing, rather than imprisoning them with would-be suicide bombers, which she had seen when she visited Hashrom prison in Israel.
Furthermore, in a meeting with Foreign Minister Livni, she raised the issue of the barrier, alternately called the “fence” or “wall” by different members of the international community, which she was made to understand was erected by Israel to separate it from Palestinian territory after its citizens were subjected to more than a hundred attacks by Palestinians between 2000 and 2002.
While Israel’s security concerns were valid, she stressed the need for Israel to maintain a balance in its worries over security with that of humanitarian concerns of the Palestinians.
Although she praised the Israel Supreme Court which has been active in reviewing complaints on a case-by-case basis, and praised by former Secretary-General Annan as the only court of its kind anywhere in the Middle East, she suggested that much more could be done to improve the freedom of movement of Palestinians overall. At the Press Conference presenting her report, an Israeli journalist got very angry saying, "you are actually saying that our Supreme Court is not good enough?" and when he had asked her if Israeli children she spoke with told her that they felt that they owed their lives to the existence of the barrier, and she had no direct response, he stormed out with a look of disgust on his face.
To demonstrate her naivety concerning the situation in this crazy part of the world, like Palestinian suicide bombers killing and crippling lots of Israeli children for many, many years, daily rocket attacks on civilians in Sedro from Gaza which still continues with a vengeance, and what really goes on in the UN regarding Israel being treated like a persona-non-grata since its existence and the founding of the United Nations. She even talked about how she had visited Sderot and spoke with children there. It seems that she only noticed that they were traumatized from living in a state of war and only lightly addressed the daily bombings by the Palestinians they had to suffer.
She even suggested that if Israel adjusted the route of the barrier, considering the enormous humanitarian and psycho-social needs of Palestinians, particularly the children, the international community would have a better opinion of Israel, since Israel had a “bad reputation” at the UN, only because of the way they treated the Palestinians. Even though she was well meaning, she really needs a history lesson and a reality check.
In addition, she also re-introduced a plan to create a tripartite commission to review school books in the Palestinian Territories that ‘might’ have a hand in inciting hatred and violence. Also, that peace education must be included. She suggested that theThe United States, which introduced the idea, might be a possible third party in that review.
Meanwhile, around the same time that she was reporting her observations to the Security Council and the UN Press Corps in New York, Hamas's Al-Aqsa Television, defied Government requests and continues to air weekly ,its very inciteful anti-Israel children's show and refuses to withdraw or have its content modified. A Mickey Mouse look alike called "farfur" urges children to support armed resistance against Israel. With the background decorated with a rocket, Farfur called for Israel to be vanquished and Islam to "lead the world." This program markets death and is thought to be a Hamas recruitment tool.
Among the officials Ms. Coomaraswamy met with in Lebanon, was Parliamentary Deputy Mohamed Raad, on behalf of Hezbollah, and discussed the use of children in armed conflict, and sought his agreement on the importance of Lebanon ratifying the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which they had so far refused to sign..
Coomaraswamy’s eutopian proposals would be great if she were dealing with a rational society, rather than one obsessed with violence and death.