H.E. Mr. Meir Sheetrit
Minister of Justice
Head of Delegation of the State of Israel

United Nations Special Session on Children

(9 May 2002)
The United Nations New York


Distinguished Chairman,

Israel is proud to be participating in this United Nations Special Session on Children as a reflection of our unwavering commitment to putting our children first - to protecting their rights and enhancing their health, education and opportunity, in Israel and around the world. It is they who will inherit the world, and chart the course of the future. Our obligation to our children is indistinguishable from our obligation to humanity.

Israel would like to extend its congratulations to Ms. Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of UNICEF, and her staff, for their important work on behalf of the children of the world, and to the Secretariat for its assistance in preparing this event.

Israel also wishes to commend the Secretary-General for his excellent report "We the Children", and its important contribution to assessing the significant progress we have made and the important objectives still to be accomplished.

Protecting our children, and providing them with the best possible opportunities in life, is the guiding objective of every parent. But for too many children, the basic necessities for a happy, safe, and healthy childhood, and by extension a productive, meaningful and healthy life, are simply not provided.

Extending the hope and promise of childhood to the millions of children that continue to suffer, even in an era of unprecedented global prosperity, means reducing poverty, protecting children from the scourge of war and violence, combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, and providing all children with adequate healthcare, clean water, basic education, and a nurturing and protective environment in which they can grow and thrive.

Israel understands that cultural differences are manifold among the nations participating in this Special Session, but when it comes to our children, certain basic principles are not up for negotiation. We must speak in one voice in condemnation of such immoral practices as child labor, child soldiers, and other forms of violence, abuse, and exploitation.

Israel is committed to these objectives, and it is in this vein that we welcome the document that we will be adopting tomorrow, A World Fit For Children, and we appreciate all the hard work that went into its preparation.

Distinguished Chairman,

Since 1990, Israel's executive, judicial and parliamentary branches of Government have been working closely with NGO's, and with children themselves, to take comprehensive steps towards the implementation of the Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children and the Plan of Action, both of which were adopted at the World Summit for Children.

Much has been accomplished in Israel in the past decade. First and foremost, there has been an increased focus on children's rights, and on the need to raise public awareness and involvement in the enhancement of children's well being, irrespective of their ethnic, economic, geographic or religious background.

Our strong commitment to children's rights was demonstrated long before Israel's accession to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1991. This commitment was also reflected in our signing, last November, of the two optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- on the involvement of children in armed conflict and on the prohibition of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography -- with a view to ratifying them in the near future, as soon as we complete the process of adjusting our national laws in accordance with the commitments set out in the protocols.

Since becoming a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Israel has undergone comprehensive reform in the field of children's rights, unique in its scope by any international standard.

In the area of law, the last decade has been marked by the passage of extensive legislation relating to children. More than 20 comprehensive bills have been passed by the Israeli parliament. Every child in Israel is guaranteed the right to health insurance as well as the right to education. Israel's legislation now incorporates some of the most advanced laws embodying the latest progress in the field of children's human rights - in particular, those which relate to the concept of "the dignity of the child", such as laws enabling children to have a meaningful say with regard to their rights in the education system.

In 1997, the Ministry of Justice, which I have the privilege of heading, appointed an intergovernmental committee of experts to reexamine the entire body of Israeli law in light of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to present recommendations for its implementation. The appointment of this committee is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious and comprehensive legislative initiatives of its kind in the world today. Its work is still being conducted, and children and youth are active participants in this process.

The Israeli Supreme Court has fully endorsed the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in general, and the right to human dignity, in particular. In this spirit, the Supreme Court, in the year 2000, unequivocally prohibited the use of corporal punishment against children by parents and other caregivers.

We have also undertaken extensive public campaigns and enacted new laws that have contributed dramatically to increasing public awareness of the problem of child abuse and neglect. Special facilities and treatment programs have also been developed for abused children.

A special parliamentary committee on the status of children has been established in the Israeli Knesset and in the municipalities. Children are regular participants on these committees.

In short, Israel is actively engaged, on all levels, in implementing both the spirit and letter of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We are acutely aware of the need to do everything in our power to protect children's most basic rights, such as the right to life and to bodily integrity, and that we, as leaders, diplomats and members of civil society, all have a special responsibility in this regard.

Distinguished chairman,

Israel today finds itself facing a particularly difficult situation: Palestinian terrorist organizations are making increasing use of children and minors to carry out suicide attacks. Over the past nine months, there have been more than thirteen Palestinian minors under the age of 18 involved in carrying out suicide attacks. This cruel and cynical exploitation of children by terrorist organizations is a blatant violation of basic norms and principles of international law, and of children's rights. It even stands in contradiction of Islamic law. To our great dismay, the Palestinian Authority, in violation of international law and signed agreements reached with Israel, continues to encourage children to sacrifice themselves in terrorist attacks.

Allow me to present a number of striking examples:

Jamil Hamid, a 16 year-old recruited by Fatah, Chairman Arafat's own faction, blew himself up on March 31, 2002, near a medical clinic, injuring six Israeli citizens.
There is also the case of Yusef Zaqout, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy who was killed, along with two friends, each of them 15 years old, when they tried to attack an Israeli community with knives and explosives.

Yet another example is that of Anwar Hamad, a 17 year-old youth, who was sent to carry out a suicide attack against a convoy of vehicles transporting IDF soldiers. Prior to his recruitment by Fatah, Anwar, a teenager with no education, and who did not even know how to read and write, was involved in the trafficking of drugs. The personal story of this innocent youth serves to demonstrate once again the abusive and cynical use made by Palestinian terrorist organizations of the young and the socially vulnerable in order to carry out terrorist atrocities against Israeli civilians.

Protecting the rights of these children, as enshrined in the basic norms and principles of international law, is a universal interest of humanity as a whole, and everything possible must be done to prevent terrorists from turning children into cannon fodder.

It is a tragedy that in the twenty-first century, there are innocent children living under the Palestinian Authority who are being indoctrinated with hatred and raised in an environment of violence, and who are exploited by terrorist organizations to carry out deadly suicidal attacks. The cynical abuse of children as pawns in the conflict begins in the Palestinian education system, where textbooks openly teach and incite hatred of Jews and Israelis.

Distinguished chairman,

The death of any child, Palestinian or Israeli, is a terrible tragedy and a curse. Dozens of Israeli children have been killed, and many more have been wounded, since the Palestinians initiated their campaign of violence and terrorism, in September 2000. The children of Israel have been victims of brutal terrorist attacks, and countless suicide bombers, who have maimed children on school-buses, in shopping centers, in pizza restaurants, on crowded streets and in discotheques, in wedding halls and market places, and even in their homes. Israeli children have been slaughtered and stoned to death by bloodthirsty terrorists, who have no respect for human life, let alone children's lives.

The international community must condemn this terrible phenomenon in the strongest possible terms and compel the Palestinian leadership to take the steps, in accordance with international law and the values and principles we all hold dear, to protect both Israeli and Palestinian children from violence and terror.

I would like to conclude by expressing my sincere hope that we will learn from the lessons of the past, so that the world becomes a place fit for children. Children are our most precious natural resource and we must to everything in our power to enable them to grow and live in peace, free from violence and fear, so that they can fulfill their potential and realize their dreams.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.