Children in Armed Conflict
Delivered to the Security Council by Ambassador Ron Prosor on 8 September 2014
One of the world’s most-beloved children’s authors, Dr. Seuss once wrote: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
All children around the world deserve to grow up in an environment where their dignity and human rights are respected and their aspirations are valued. Yet in too many parts of the world children are targets of violence and casualties of conflict.
Abuses against children in armed conflicts not only tear at our hearts; they unravel entire communities and destroy the fabric of a society. An estimated two million children have died as a direct result of armed conflict over the last decade – and many more have been permanently disabled or seriously injured.
In the Middle East, terrorists regularly single out children in their attacks. In June, millions of Israelis were numb with horror when they learned that Hamas terrorists kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers – Eyal, Gilad and Naftalie – as they made their way home from school.
This is just one of many attacks targeting Israeli children. Over the summer, over 3,800 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel – an average of one rocket every 10 minutes. These rockets landed on Israeli kindergartens, playgrounds and homes. Four year-old Daniel Tragerman of Kibbutz Nahal Oz was one of the tragic casualties of these rockets.
Daniel’s mother, Gila, sent a letter to the Secretary General this week in which she wrote:
“Daniel, 4.5 years old, was killed in our house, while playing with [his sister] in a tent built indoors and not outside, because it's dangerous. He was killed from a mortar shell that was shot by terrorists from Gaza, he died in our hands. Daniel died in front of his little sister [who is], 3.5 years old; he died in front of [his baby brother] Uri, only four months old and right before our eyes, his mother and father… Daniel was killed from a mortar shell that was fired by Hamas members from an elementary school for boys in Gaza City. It wasn't a stray shell. It wasn't accidental death. From that school terrorists fired deliberately at the kibbutz to murder civilians — children, women, old people.”
Today over one million Israeli children live with the threat of Hamas missiles. One in every three children living in communities near Gaza has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Thousands of these children cannot sleep at night and refuse to go outdoors – for good reason. In recent weeks, the IDF has discovered dozens of terror tunnels leading from Gaza to the doorsteps of Israeli communities. Hamas planned to use these tunnels to send terrorists into the hearts of these communities to kill and kidnap as many people as possible.
As a father who raised three children in Israel, I can tell you that Israeli children grow up in an abnormal reality. They go to school with security guards; walk through metal detectors in malls; and live with bunkers in their buildings. They grow up thinking all of this is normal. Each and every day, Israeli parents worry that their children will be the victim of a rocket attack, kidnapping attempt, suicide bombing or stone throwing.
Israel is committed to upholding international law and takes great measures to ensure the protection of civilians. In contrast, radical extremist groups like Hamas see no problem with using civilians and children to achieve their ends. They deploy minors as suicide bombers and recruit them to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers; they send children deep underground to dig their terror tunnels; and they place children in harm’s way by using schools, hospitals and civilian neighborhoods as a base for their terror activity.
During Hamas’s most recent escalation, terrorists booby-trapped hundreds of Palestinian homes and went so far as to use children’s bedrooms – and even baby cribs - to hide explosives and conceal terror tunnels.
Hamas also launched M-75 rockets from a children's playground located in the Shuja'iya neighborhood. Dozens of other rockets were fired steps from Gaza schools including the Al-Wakaf Al-Shariah School, the Sinah School, the Haled Al-Alami Girls School, and the Shahada Al-Manar Boys School.
And of course, we are well aware that on at least three separate occasions, rockets were found hidden in UNRWA schools. I can assure you that Hamas didn’t place them there because it had added rocket science to the school curriculum.
Hamas has made its educational priorities clear. Earlier this year, UNRWA tried to distribute new textbooks to teach Gaza’s children about human rights. Hamas rejected the books on the grounds that the materials would brainwash Palestinian children.
A representative from Hamas’s Education Ministry explained that the books would foster (and I quote) “negative feelings toward armed resistance” and that the inclusion of topics such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would contaminate children’s minds.
Learning about human rights would contaminate children’s minds? The truth is that every single day Hamas is polluting young Palestinian minds with hatred and violence. Over 100,000 children graduated from Hamas’ paramilitary camps which encourage teenagers to (quote) “follow in the footsteps of the suicide martyrs.”
The toxic lessons taught by Hamas are poisoning any opportunity for Palestinian children to grow up in peace. Generations of Palestinians have suffered under a leadership that would sooner tear Israel down than raise its own people up. It is time for the Palestinian leadership to teach its children tolerance, coexistence and mutual understanding.
The United Nations has a duty to shield the world’s young people from hate and protect them wherever and whenever they are threatened.
For the sake of these children and for the future of our region the international community must act. As Dr. Seuss wrote: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot - nothing is going to get better.”
Thank you, Mr. President.