UNICEF stifles its own report on Palestinian children in Israeli detention

on 11 Comments
Cover of the UNICEF report “Children in Israeli Military Detention, Observations and Recommendations”

In March the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued a damning report on the “widespread, systematic and institutionalized” abuse of Palestinian children held in Israeli custody. The report, titled Children in Israeli Military Detention, Observations and Recommendations (pdf), buttresses earlier reports that have garnered a lot of attention internationally.

After the report was released Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement claiming Israel would study the conclusions of the report and “work to implement them through ongoing co-operation with UNICEF” noting that Israel had joined UNICEF’s board this year.

The Australian reports on a bizarre press conference that took place in Jerusalem about the findings of UNICEF’s report. The press conference was greeted enthusiastically by journalists but the manner in which it was conducted indicates a fix was on to stifle the truth of the report. Unfortunately, it appears at least some of those engaged in this subterfuge were members of UNICEF, including Anthony Lake, executive director of the agency, and UNICEF’s Jerusalem chief Jean Gough.

The Australian:

Inquirer’s photographer had brought a video camera to film for The Australian’s website. But UNICEF’s Jerusalem chief Jean Gough made an announcement: only the first five minutes could be filmed and no officials could be quoted. A press conference where you couldn’t film? Or quote officials?

Gough began speaking. During the first five minutes she praised Israel for its dialogue about the system under which Palestinian children from the age of 12 are tried by Israeli soldiers, while Jewish children in neighbouring settlements are tried before civilian courts. “I want to thank them,” she said of the Israelis.

But once the cameras were off, a totally different story was told – one official said the ill-treatment of Palestinian children was “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”; another told how Palestinian children were “beaten, slapped and kicked” by Israeli soldiers.

He said children sometimes were told they would be killed or that they or members of their families would be sexually assaulted if they did not confess, usually to stone-throwing. Another said there was “a systemic pattern of abuse and torture”.

This was not just media management but a distortion of the truth. The version from the first five minutes was highly positive to Israel, but the later version was of a horrific system in which children were taken from their homes – usually at night – by heavily armed soldiers, blindfolded, denied water and toilets, and even placed in solitary confinement for up to a month. And while UNICEF found Israel had engaged in actions that fitted its definition of torture, the report avoided using that word in its findings.

An investigation by Inquirer suggested that UNICEF had caved in to pressure from Israel or self-censored. The more we questioned, the less UNICEF answered. Gough would not answer certain questions, referring us to UNICEF’s New York executive director, Anthony Lake.

But Lake would not answer a single question, even though he signed off on the report. In a circle of unaccountability, his office referred us back to Jerusalem because “it is a report about children there, not a global report”.

Lake’s office stated: “So we will close on this from HQ and you will receive your responses from the region”. But the Jerusalem office would not answer several questions – so for one of UNICEF’s major reports many questions went unanswered.

There were general references to torture, but when it came to specific findings the word was omitted. The report even deleted “torture” when it quoted relevant sections of international law and substituted it with “duress”.

(Hat tip Karen Platt)

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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11 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    April 17, 2013, 3:11 pm

    There ebb and flow of “the fix” seems all ebb and no flow. International BDS? Pie in the sky.

  2. Cliff
    April 17, 2013, 4:22 pm

    This is what happens when Zionists get in the board of directors of anything.

    They destroy an institution’s integrity.

  3. Hostage
    April 17, 2013, 4:27 pm

    Unfortunately, it appears at least some of those engaged in this subterfuge were members of UNICEF, including Anthony Lake, executive director of the agency, and UNICEF’s Jerusalem chief Jean Gough.

    Those are the very same UNICEF officials who recently admitted that in the event that the blockaded Palestinian economy can’t provide the necessary parts, supplies, and skilled labor to build their own water desalinization plant, then Israel would be UNICEF’s next preferred provider:

    Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip threatened to hold protests against UNICEF and to close its offices because of its readiness to permit Israeli companies to take part in its projects. Hamas said it would not allow Israel to carry out any work in the Gaza Strip.

    UNICEF spokeswoman Catherine Weibel said that no contracts had been awarded to any firms. She explained that UNICEF Special Representative in the Occupied Palestinian territory Jean Gough had met with the Palestinian Contractors Union on Tuesday.

    “The priority and policy of the UNICEF office in the Occupied Palestinian territory is to purchase goods and services from qualified Palestinian manufacturers, authorized dealers and companies. We only buy from other providers when goods are not available,” Gough said.

    Weibel explained that the project in question was a desalination plant.

    UNICEF’s preference, she said, was to use local suppliers. But if Palestinian supplier could not provide the necessary parts then Israel was the next option.


    So much for the common legal principle that no party should profit or benefit from their own injurious or criminal behavior.

    • Annie Robbins
      April 17, 2013, 5:58 pm

      i recall after the 08/09 massacre germany donated one salination plant to gaza and israel turned it around and sent it back…wouldn’t let it in.

      • Hostage
        April 17, 2013, 8:11 pm

        i recall after the 08/09 massacre germany donated one salination plant to gaza and israel turned it around and sent it back…wouldn’t let it in.

        Well there is an obvious moral hazard involved if the UN lets Israel bomb Palestine into the stone age and then bid on the UN contracts to repair the damage it has caused, while observing their illegal blockade. The UN demanded reparations for its own facilities that were damaged during Cast Lead, I wonder if the Israelis got a piece of those repair projects too?

  4. piotr
    April 17, 2013, 5:14 pm

    What countries Lake and Gogh are coming from?

    Allegedly, Gandhi was asked what he thinks about Western civilization and he replied that it would be an excellent idea.

    Honestly, this is not simply the problem in Israel. In Turkey children stone throwers have minimum 2 year sentence and they have thousands of such prisoners (Kurdish). Or perhaps not, because I read about it while surfing a Turkish website while the parliament was debating changing the stupid law. Ideally, UNICEF could make consistent appeals in all countries with “problems”.

    In the future, who knows? perhaps due process (and no duress) will be applied to children and adults alike? Even by Turkey and Israel?

    • Hostage
      April 17, 2013, 8:05 pm

      What countries Lake and Gogh are coming from?

      The United States and Honduras respectively. Lake was a career State Department Foreign Affairs and White House National Security apparatchik who converted to Judaism a few years back.

  5. Sumud
    April 17, 2013, 6:47 pm

    Please tell me one of the journalists present had the initiative to still record the “press conference” and anonymously leak it later.

    • Annie Robbins
      April 17, 2013, 6:54 pm

      sumud, they reported about it in The Australian explaining ‘the inquirer’ had a camera there, filming for them…, so i would imagine The Australian link is the leak. here’s more from the link:

      So why has UNICEF been spared an attack? It was obvious at the Jerusalem press conference that something was askew. The room had 60 chairs for only a handful of journalists.

      “We were limited in the number of journalists we could invite,” one official admitted.

      “You wouldn’t believe the pressure we were under to cancel this event,” another said.

  6. Erasmus
    April 19, 2013, 2:55 pm

    No more donations to UNICEF

    This behaviour of UNICEF reps is shocking and thoroughly discredits a formerly well-reputed UN-Organisation.

    I deeply regret my past donations to UNICEF – as for the future: NO MORE !

    Wonder, whether the UNICEF board will take any decisive action on both functionaries, Lake and Gogh, and remove them from their positions.

    That should be a minimum to restore some of the lost credibility.

  7. DanH
    April 19, 2013, 9:15 pm

    Anthony lake spent many years out of the loop for taking a principled stand against the bombing of Cambodia, and going up against his friend, Henry Kissinger.

    In Clinton’s Administration, as National Security Advisor to the President, he had the opportunity to go up against Warren Christopher, SOS, as well as the Pentagon, and advocate for turning the heat up on our ally Rwanda for what the world knew was ‘genocide’, however he chose not to rock the boat, but to “look the other way” in his own words. He was in the meetings where Susan Rice (at one point) verbalized the depth of moral considerations then prevalent at the highest levels of our Nation, with her question to the effect of “Well, if we do label these actions Genocide, and we don’t do anything about it, what effect will this have with the upcoming mid-term Congressional elections?” (Thank you, Samantha Power).

    I think it is fair to say relatively recently converted (about 20 years, to Judaism) Tony Lake felt no urge to recuse himself from the judgement as to what to do with this damning report on Israel’s treatment, including Torture, of Palestinian children, nor to put himself in the league of a person such as Richard Goldstone who still knows right from wrong.

    Setting the wheels in motion to assess whether our ally has committed, or is committing War Crimes, would probably be one step further along the way if the old (young) Tony Lake were on the job.

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