New Zealand's voice at the Security Council

Will the New Zealand Government's attitude allow New Zealand to speak out for Palestinian children and their families at the Security Council? Or will it continue to hide behind vacuous expressions such as 'evenhandedness' and 'dialogue'.

Open Letter to Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Prime Minister John Key from Palestine Human Rights Campaign Aotearoa New Zealand www.palestine.org.nz

Dear Sirs,
The United Nations has betrayed Palestinian children and decided not to include Israel in a list of violators of children’s rights. Even so, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, commenting on the decision acknowledged that, "The unprecedented and unacceptable scale of the impact on children in 2014 raises grave concerns about Israel's compliance with international humanitarian law, notably the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in attack, and respect for international human rights law, particularly in relation to excessive use of force."

The terrible record
Leila Zerrougui, the UN special envoy for children and armed conflict, included the Israeli Army in a draft report she had sent to the Secretary-General, who had the final say on the list. The report noted that the number of Palestinian schoolchildren killed in 2014 was the third highest of anywhere in the world. The number of schools damaged or destroyed was also the highest anywhere in 2014. But Israel is not included among the groups that kill or maim children and engage in attacks on schools. Human Rights Watch has published annual reports of Israel's violations every year since 2005. Violations by Israel in 2014 documented by Human Rights Watch include, for example, the shooting dead of children in the West Bank, and two children and five of their relatives killed in an Israeli airstrike on their home in the Khan Yunis refugee camp on 10 July. Israeli attacks on or near three schools in Gaza killed 46 civilians, including 17 children. Israel had been notified of the presence of civilians in these locations. The Secretary-General knows full well, as does most of the world, that Israel has an appalling record of discriminatory child abuse. Israel is the only country in the world to have established military courts in which children are singled out to be processed in what amount to be callous travesties of justice.

The daily toll on Palestinian families
Israeli violence is unremitting. On 1 June this year, the Israeli Navy opened fire on, and hijacked, a Palestinian fishing boat off al-Sudaniya, Gaza and abducted a young crew member, Ibrahim Al-Najjar (14). On 4 June, a nine-year-old child was hospitalised with severe burns after abandoned Israeli Army ordnance exploded near Ibziq village in the North Jordan Valley. The ordnance was left behind after the Israeli Army had finished conducting military exercises in Palestinian civilian areas. In the West Bank, on 5 June in Silwad, Ramallah, the Israeli Army opened fire with live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets and stun and tear gas grenades; a 13-year-old boy was wounded and hospitalised. On 6 June, the Israeli Army raided the Tubas district village of Khirbeit al-Humsa and issued orders on 11 families to leave their homes to make way for military exercises by Occupation forces. It should not need to be pointed out that such evictions, along with the frequent night-time invasions of Palestinian homes carried out by Israeli troops, are extremely traumatic for the children. Imagine the outcry if it were Jewish, Israeli children that were subject to such brutal treatment by foreign occupiers.

What other country in the world carries out military exercises in and around people's homes? These daily experiences fill the gaps between more devastating, sustained attacks on Palestinian civilians. Defenceless children are in the frontline of Israel's West Bank military occupation and relentless Gaza blockade. Palestinian children have been forced to live in refugee camps for so many decades now that the world has forgotten them.

New Zealand
The New Zealand United Nations Security Council 2015-16 website declares that, “New Zealand’s term on the Security Council will place us at the heart of international decision-making for the next two years. We are committed to being independent and providing a voice for small states. We aim to achieve practical results and to make a positive impact on international peace and security.” Our prime minister, John Key, declared, “we believe that New Zealand can make a positive difference to world affairs and provide a unique and independent voice at the world's top table." Let's hope so, because there is another view in the National Party that expresses a narrower attitude. Quoted on Radio New Zealand, New Zealand's former United Nations permanent representative, Jim McLay, spoke in terms of trade and other benefits for New Zealand of doors already opening for the country since it gained a seat on the UN Security Council. He said, "Doors that we previously couldn't kick down suddenly open with just the lightest touch . . .” But as far as long suffering Palestinian families are concerned, Mr McLay could only say that the biggest challenge for New Zealand during its term would be “navigating the conflicts in the Middle East.”

The New Zealand Government's viewpoint
“Navigating the conflicts in the Middle East” suggests managing humanitarian crises, rather than ending them. The frightened villagers of Khirbet Susiya, whose homes are about to be demolished yet again by the Israeli Army, would derive little comfort from such an attitude. It certainly gives no indication that New Zealand would go against the wishes of the United States and demand an end to Israel's impunity.

An Open Letter to Foreign Minister Murray McCully, dated 30 April 2012, from the Palestine Human Rights Campaign asked the minister: “In your statement supporting Israel's application for admission to the OECD you claimed that it was important to the process of what you called “dialogue” with the Zionist state. The Palestine Human Rights Campaign (PHRC) would like to offer you the opportunity to demonstrate how such dialogue has so far succeeded in persuading Israel to adhere to the norms of civilised trading, OECD rules and international law. In other words, are you able to show that Israel's admission to the OECD has in anyway modified its behaviour?” McCully declined to answer the question which is even more pertinent now since the Israeli Operation 'Pillar of Defence' that ironically occurred later that same year. In view of the present worsening plight of Palestinian families and in light of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's unequivocal declaration that the whole of Jerusalem is Israel's “eternal and undivided capital” we ask McCully and Prime Minister Key once again to demonstrate to New Zealand, and to the world, to what extent 'dialogue' has so far succeeded in persuading Israel to adhere to the norms of civilised trading, OECD rules and international law. Please explain how your support for Israel's admission to the OECD has in anyway modified its behaviour.

Get some guts
The New Zealand Government's attitudes and beliefs will have much bearing on how it conducts itself at the Security Council. Will it allow New Zealand to speak out for Palestinian children and their families at the Security Council? Or will it continue to hide behind vacuous expressions such as 'evenhandedness' and 'dialogue'. As John Key advised the Labour opposition in Parliament recently over another matter, it's time now for the National leadership to “get some guts” and stand up for the defenceless Palestinian people and, as we have said before, demand an end to Israel's impunity.
Leslie Bravery,
Palestine Human Rights Campaign.

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