We welcome the signing of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and of the Optional Protocol on Sexual Exploitation in September 2001 as positive steps and hope that ratification will soon follow, along with ratification of ILO Convention 182 (Extreme Forms of Child Labor).
The Coalition welcomes the establishment of a Committee to Examine Fundamental Principles Concerning Children and the Law (the “RothLevy Committee”) but fears that the process might not lead to the incorporation in Israeli law of the whole CRC.
While the approach towards children’s issues in the Knesset-Committees is often ritualistic, we believe that the Knesset Advancement of the Status of Children Committee and its dedicated chairperson MK Tamar Gozansky are very helpful in advancing children’s rights issues and keeping children on the political agenda.
The new Local Status of Children Committees of municipalities can be a unique chance to push for implementation and coordination on a local level. This has also become important since local authorities are increasingly delivering services, and contribute financially to services in their community, in addition to the national government.
A Committee of the Ministry of Justice headed by Deputy Attorney General Judith Karp cooperates with other government agencies and involves NGOs, such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the National Council for the Child and DCI-Israel.
The Ministry of Justice developed some very progressive laws, such as the Evidence Revision (Protection of Children) Law 1995 where minors under the age of 14 do not have to testify in person concerning sex-offenders or violent crime perpetrators. A social worker can appear in his/her place in court, which in many other countries would not be possible because it would be seen as hearsay and insufficient evidence. The NGOs welcome the change in 1998 of the 1995 Public Defender Law, providing counsel to all minors being tried in criminal cases in court.
The government finances NGO experiments of the National Insurance Institute-Special Projects. It has agreed to finance DCI-Israel for three years in creating a Youth Information Center in the port city Ashdod staffed by a community worker and a lawyer to promote children’s rights. The project is subsidized through the NII Special Projects Fund and will be run with the municipality of Ashdod. It is now involved in a project of “Dilemma Cafés” (“Hafuch Al Hafuch”) operated by the NGO ELEM (Youth in Distress) and several others which provides adolescents with non-stigmatic advice and counseling services. DCI-Israel has received funding for the first time (from NII Special projects) to operate in the Arab sector (in the town Al-Tira). In Al Tira and in some of the Dilemma café settings, DCI-Israel gives legal advice to young people about their rights. Such innovative socio-legal defense centers are encouraged by the government, as a welcomed development, although it also brings attention to the disparity of services.
We welcome the work done by the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center and the People’s International Institute in cooperation with developing countries and regret that they were not mentioned in the State Report.
We appreciate that in the first half of the nineties (especially in 1993 under the Rabin government) a huge investment in education was made, certainly as compared to the previous decade. This was also true in the Arab-Israeli sector (mostly in salaries of teachers, and not in building classrooms).
In contrast to many other States, the Supreme Court in Israel is approachable. Israeli law provides for relative ease in bringing social policy issues before its Supreme Court.
We see it as a positive step that the Prison Commissioner has decided to open a prison exclusively for minors (the Ofek prison) with personnel trained specifically for that purpose and that the first stage is already in force. By 2003 all juveniles in prisons (including Palestinian security offenders) will have improved facilities.
The Supreme Court also ruled recently that torture during terrorist interrogations is illegal and thereby revised the decision by a State Commission headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge, Moshe Landau, no longer allowing “moderate physical pressure”. It should be noted that the law dealing with self-defense was changed during this period, which facilitated the court in its latest decision.
The public health system compares favorably with systems in industrialized countries. The National Health Insurance Law no longer, in principle, excludes any child in Israel. Despite this, Arab children born in East Jerusalem are liable to encounter difficulties.
The responsibility for development of health facilities has shifted to the P.A., which must tend to the running of hospitals and health services in P.A. controlled areas. However since we believe that the State of Israel neglected development of health facilities in the West Bank and Gaza when it was 100% under its rule. The State of Israel should have a moral responsibility to help the P.A more financially develop health services and pay for treatments not developed in the West Bank and Gaza.
We realize that children’s rights have to be implemented in what Simha Landau called “an ideal natural laboratory for the study of the effects of stress on human beings.”
If it were not for the Palestinian conflict, Israel could be considered just as any other State where policies of the World Bank and IMF impact upon decisions the government takes in trying to cut government social expenditure. The tragedy of Israel is that because of the conflict-situation with the Palestinians and the continuing occupation, it cannot put its best tenets to use for children. If things do not change soon, many resources will be wasted on coping with the violent situation, instead of on children and the future. Children, of course become the major victims of this conflict many of whom have lost their lives; so much energy and resources which children so desperately need are channeled into the struggle with the Palestinians. After hopes of resolution a few years ago, the situation is growing from one of low-intensity conflict to a serious war-like situation. The growing gap between the rich and the poor also takes place in many other countries, and we see it having its negative impact on children in Israel, as well. The economic difficulties may also contribute to angering parents as does the general security situation (most Israeli Jewish and many Druze and some Bedouin men have to go one month per year to reserve duty untill the age of 50), which can perhaps lead to anger and frustration being taken out on their wives and children.
We have seen that the right to life (art 6) and prevention from torture (art 37) are closely linked with the situation with the Palestinians. In addition, we see as key: art 27 (adequate standard of living) and the protection from all forms of violence (art 19) – as we have seen a growing phenomenon as Israeli society has become more unstable, impoverished and ultimately more violent.
Israel is not unique in making budget cuts that affect the weakest groups in society, such as children and not adequately addressing the needs of Arab-Israeli children. If this was the only problem, it would be seen against the background of first positive steps to implement the CRC, Israel could be among the leading States which to the best of their ability try to implement the CRC. Certainly this is the impression that one gets by reading the Initial Report. The impression is that one reads about an island of good lawmaking and first steps in the right direction. It would be a blessing if in the next years a political solution could be found for a just peace with the Palestinians. Then, indeed, the context of children’s rights would be more like many other “normal” countries.