Tel Aviv Conference on Child Protection
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Palestinian Child Rights Coalition | Email circular | 17 October 2002
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Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2002 1:58 PM
Subject: Re: Tel Aviv Conference on Child Protection
17 October 2002
We are writing on behalf of the Palestinian Child Rights Coalition (PCRC) to urge you to strongly reconsider your participation in the upcoming conference “Protection of Child-Civilians in Times of Conflict.” PCRC, a network of 15 Palestinian NGOs working on issues concerning Palestinian children, will publicly boycott this conference.
We have serious reservations about this conference and urge you to reconsider your participation for a number of reasons:
First, we have serious concerns about the format and themes of the conference. We find the use of the phrase “child-civilians” in the original conference title to be severely problematic, begging the question of whether or not the conference organizers believe there to be a category of “child non-civilians” and, if so, is that category of children not guaranteed protection? This apparent distinction contradicts the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict which calls for an “improvement of the situation of children without distinction.”
Second, though the conference will devote considerable discussion on the issue of Palestinian children, there is not a single mention of occupation in the entire conference program. Instead the situation is consistently referred to as one of ‘conflict,’ perpetuating the notion that the situation is one of an ongoing battle between two sides of equal power, rather than one of a largely civilian population illegally occupied for over 35 years. Given that the main work of children’s organizations in the occupied territories at present is protecting Palestinian children from gross and systematic violations of their rights as a result of Israeli government sanctioned occupation policy and working with children to help mitigate the traumatic effects of life under military siege, we find this oversight appalling.
Moreover, while the conference alleges to address the protection of children, there is a disproportionate focus on the issue of children’s participation and crowd control. There is virtually no focus on other protection issues affecting children who are not participating, the overwhelming majority of the 1.5 million Palestinian children living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For example, there are no panels regarding children’s right to be protected from restrictions on freedom of movement that impede their access to education, their right to an adequate standard of living, their right to access to appropriate medical care, etc. There are no panels discussing the right of children to be protected from illegal policies specifically related to this situation, such as the Israeli policy of home demolition, deportations or extra-judicial killings. Though the majority of Palestinian children are gravely affected by these issues, they do not seem to merit consideration in the context of this conference.
Combined, these two factors contribute to the popular misconception that this ‘conflict’ is about armed action, rather than about a heinous and Kafkaesque system of control. It is this system, i.e. the occupation, from which children need to be protected and, therefore, the occupation should be the primary focus of any conference on child protection at present. Thus, the approach to protection, as outlined by the conference program is grossly reductive. Quite frankly, given the situation on the ground, the allegation that this conference addresses protection issues for children is insulting both to the Palestinian children who are suffering on a daily basis, and to child rights workers who are desperately trying to mitigate the affects of this suffering.
Third, we find it outrageous that the conference is being held in a city, Tel Aviv, to which 3 million Palestinians are barred from traveling. The chosen location of the conference calls us to question the motivation of the conference organizers for choosing a city which would ipso facto prevent Palestinian participation. Also, we find it seriously problematic that a conference which undoubtedly will feature considerable discussion on the issue of Palestinian children was organized entirely without the input of any member of the PCRC, nor were any members invited to attend the event. The organization of this conference without the input of Palestinian children’s organizations and the decision to hold it in a city completely inaccessible to most Palestinians belies a racist mentality, wherein, essentially, the ‘subjects’ to be discussed are effectively excluded from the discussion.
Finally, we are deeply disturbed by the participation of several of the speakers at the conference. Itamar Rabinovich, President of Tel Aviv University and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, will offer greetings at the opening of the event. In a May 2002 interview, Rabinovich, referred to Israel’s invasion of the West Bank in March-April as “successful.”* The March-April invasions killed over 40 Palestinian children and precipitated the worst humanitarian crisis for Palestinian civilians in decades. Further, he continues to regurgitate Israeli myths about the current situation, placing the blame on the Palestinian Authority, whom he states, has been waging “a “war of attrition” against us [Israelis] for the last year and a half.” As individuals who personally survived the April attacks, we view Rabinovich’s participation deeply upsetting.
We are also concerned that Ruth Lapidoth is participating in the conference. In an interview given with The Jerusalem Report magazine in 2002**, regarding the International Criminal Court (ICC), Lapidoth stressed that she hoped that the possibility of Israeli officials or soldiers being arrested and tried overseas at the ICC would not “materialize.” She also stated that she hoped that the United States would use its veto power to prevent any attempt by the UN Security Council from bringing cases against Israelis via the ICC. We find it unthinkable that a conference that purportedly will focus on the ways and means to protect children from conflict would include the participation of a speaker who has publicly expressed her hope that Israeli officials and soldiers will not be prosecuted by the ICC, a court designed specifically to bring to justice perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
We are seriously disturbed that one of the speakers at the conference will be an Israeli army Captain currently serving in the occupied territories. As an officer in the military forces that are systematically violating Palestinian human rights on a daily basis, we find his participation seriously offensive. Officers such as this not only perpetuate and enable the continuance of the occupation, but they hold direct responsibility for the suffering to which Palestinians are subjected on a daily basis.
In light of the above, we strongly urge you to seriously reconsider your participation in this conference. We understand that some of the conference participants may be motivated to attend the event in the belief that their participation will ensure that some of the concerns raised above will be addressed within the format of the conference. However, we strongly believe that the outcome of this conference could have a seriously negative impact on children’s work in the area, and consequently on children themselves, given its reductive approach to protection issues and its apparent denial of the main issue currently affecting children’s protection, that is the occupation. Thus, we fear that not only will your participation merely add legitimacy and respectability to the proceedings, rather than succeed in highlighting problematic issues, but also that you personally will be associated with an inherently flawed and insulting approach to child protection issues.
We sincerely hope that you will take our concerns into your consideration.
Palestinian Child Rights Coalition
Palestinian NGO Network
For more information, contact George Abu Al-Zulof (052 436 289) or Jihad Mashal (059 557 755).