Israel and Hamas Are Kept Off a Grim List

New York Times, June 8, 2015

Under unusual pressure from Israel and the United States, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, opted not to include either Israel or Hamas on a list of armies and guerrilla groups that kill and maim children in conflicts worldwide, despite the recommendations of one of his senior envoys, diplomats say.

The list was part of an annual report of violations of children’s rights, an advance copy of which was circulated to members of the Security Council on Monday morning, that goes into great detail on the actions of Israeli security forces during the 50-day war in the Gaza Strip last year. The report raised what it called “serious concern over the observance of the rules of international humanitarian law concerning the conduct of hostilities.”

The report says that at least 540 children were killed, another 2,955 wounded and 262 schools damaged by Israeli airstrikes. It also cited Palestinian militants for firing rockets indiscriminately toward Israel, killing a 4-year-old Israeli boy and gravely wounding at least six Israeli children.

It did not, however, include either the Israeli Defense Forces or Hamas, the militant group that dominates Gaza, on a list of entities known to recruit child soldiers, “kill or maim children, commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, or engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals in situations of armed conflict.” That list, which is part of an annex to the report, contains 55 states and armed groups, including Sudanese government forces; the Lord’s Resistance Army, a violent, renegade rebel group that originated in Uganda; and the Islamic State.

“The report is the result of a consultative process within the house,” Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the secretary general, said in response to a barrage of questions from reporters at a daily news briefing at United Nations headquarters. “It was a difficult decision to take.”

Mr. Ban’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, recommended that both the Israeli Army and Hamas be included, according to diplomats at the United Nations, who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. Israel and its allies lobbied heavily against that recommendation.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, met with Ms. Zerrougui to discuss a draft earlier this year. Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel telephoned Mr. Ban. And, according to one United Nations diplomat, the Obama administration also weighed in. An official with the American mission to the United Nations declined to comment on whether administration officials had had “private diplomatic conversations” with the secretary general’s office.

Republicans in Congress campaigned on Israel’s behalf, too. Last Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas threatened to “reassess” the American relationship to the United Nations — code for cutting off funding — if Mr. Ban included Israel on the list.

“This designation would falsely and shamefully equate Israel with some of the most barbaric terrorist organizations around the world,” Mr. Cruz wrote in a letter to Mr. Ban. “The decision to add Israel is solely your decision to make and, therefore, is entirely in your power to prevent from taking place.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, on a visit to Jerusalem in late May, inveighed against the prospect of Israel being included on the list. “That would be an outrage that would not go unanswered,” he said in response to a question about whether Israel should be included on the list.

Israel has consistently said that it did not target civilian sites, including schools, in its operation against Hamas militants during the Gaza war. The United Nations lists armies and armed groups not on the basis of intent, but on whether there was a pattern of attacks.

The United Nations, in a separate report in April, found that Israeli military actions killed 44 Palestinian civilians who had sought refuge in seven schools run by the organization. The conflict left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead, while 72 were killed on the Israeli side, including 66 soldiers.

The war was a sharp escalation of tensions between Israel and the United Nations, which provides an array of services to the Palestinians in Gaza. United Nations officials said they had repeatedly communicated the locations of facilities harboring civilians to the Israeli military.

Discussions are underway over potential monetary compensation from Israel for the damage to United Nations property, Mr. Dujarric said Monday, declining to offer details.

Ms. Zerrougui was not available for comment on Monday. But her office issued a statement confirming that she made “recommendations” to the secretary general about a variety of governments and groups. “This was part of a comprehensive and lengthy internal preparatory process and has resulted in the final report,” she said in the statement.

Defense for Children International Palestine, a human rights group that provided testimony to Ms. Zerrougui’s office for the report, saidin a statement on Monday that it was “deeply troubled” by the omission of Israel.

Mr. Prosor said in an emailed statement: “The U.N. secretary general was right not to submit to the dictates of the terrorist organizations and the Arab states, in his decision not to include Israel in this shameful list.”

Neither Israel nor Palestinian militants have been included before in the annual report on rights violations. The latest report is to be released to the General Assembly after it is translated into the six official languages of the United Nations.