Introducing his country's report, Yaakov Levy, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stressed that protecting children and providing them with the best possible opportunities in life was the guiding objective of every parent in the country. However, for too many children, the basic necessities for a happy, safe and healthy childhood, and by extension a productive, meaningful and healthy life, were simply not provided, he said. The Government of Israel was committed to those objectives; and much had been accomplished over the past decade to achieve them.
Also introducing the report, Saviona Rotlevy, Judge at the Ministry of Justice of Israel, said that it appeared to her that during the last few years, a real change in the approach of the Israeli society towards children's rights could be discerned. Children, as well as parents, caretakers and the authorities, had begun to realize what the rights of children were, how those rights should be protected, and how they affected the daily life of children.
Chairperson and Committee Expert Jacob Egbert Doek, who served as rapporteur on the report of Israel, said in his preliminary concluding remarks that the Committee got a lot of clarifications on the conditions of children and was able to understand the position of Israel on different issues. A lot of efforts had to be made to implement the Convention and to make it a reality for the children, whether they were Jews or not, he said. So far, the Israeli authorities were on the right track and they should continue with their efforts. Some of the concern of the Committee would focus on the conditions of Palestinian children in the occupied territories.
The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Israel on Friday, 4 October, the last day of its three-week session.
The Israeli delegation was also made up of Tuvia Israeli, Deputy Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva; Alan Baker, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Moaz Oren and Yochie Gnessin, of the Ministry of Justice; Yona Amitai, of the Ministry of Health; Udi Sagui, of the Israeli Defence Force; Ilana Zailer, of the Ministry of Education; and Teizu Guluma, Advisor.
Israel is among the 191 States parties to the Convention and as such it is required to submit periodic reports to the Committee on how it is implementing the provisions of the treaty.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 3 October, it will discuss in private its conclusions on country reports examined during this session. The Committee is scheduled to close its three-week session on Friday, 4 October, after adopting its concluding observations and its annual report.
Report of Israel
The second periodic report of Israel (document CRC/C/8/Add.44) enumerates the various aspects affecting the rights of the child in the country and the efforts made to implement the provisions of the Convention. Although the Convention, which was ratified in 1991, does not have the status of law, it is often cited in rulings of both the supreme and the lower courts as a legal source and a basis of interpretation. The report notes that at the end of 1998, the population of Israel numbered 6,041,400 individuals -- 79 per cent Jews and 21 per cent non-Jews. Approximately 10 per cent of Israel's population are new immigrants, 2 per cent of whom immigrated from Ethiopia and 8 per cent from the former Soviet Union.
The report notes that 89 per cent of the children in Israel live in urban centres. The percentage of children living in rural communities is higher among the Arab citizens of Israel, reaching 21 per cent. About 12 per cent of Israel's children -- 9 per cent of the Arabs and 14 per cent of the Jews -- live in mixed communities of Jews and Arabs.
It further notes that a number of factors have played and continue to play a decisive role in determining the character of Israeli society. One is the social and cultural diversity of the Jewish population, resulting primarily from immigration from a wide range of countries of origin but also from differences in religious observance. Another is the nature of relations between the Jewish majority and the significant Arab minority. To this may be added the Arab-Israeli conflict and the ongoing peace process.
The report continues to note that poverty is widespread among the child population in Israel; the poverty rate among children has risen dramatically since the 1970s; and it hinders educational achievements, fosters delinquency, and impedes the attainment of equal opportunity.
Presentation of Report
YAAKOV LEVY, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stressed that protecting children and providing them with the best possible opportunities in life was the guiding objective of every parent in the country. However, for too many children, the basic necessities for a happy, safe and healthy childhood, and by extension a productive, meaningful and healthy life, were simply not provided. The Government of Israel was committed to those objectives; and much had been accomplished over the past decade to achieve them.
Mr. Levy said there had been an increased focus on children's rights in Israel, and on the need to raise public awareness and involvement for the enhancement of children's well-being, irrespective of their ethnic, economic, geographic or religious background. Since becoming a party to the Convention, Israel had undertaken comprehensive reforms in the field of children's rights. The last decade had been marked by the passage of extensive legislation relating to children. More than 20 comprehensive bills relating to child rights had been enacted by the Israeli parliament. Every child in Israel was guaranteed the right to health insurance as well as the right to education.
One of the most critical and important elements in the long-term protection of the rights of the child was education for peace and tolerance, the Ambassador continued to say. Within Israel itself, this concerned tolerance among the different communities, religious and secular, veterans and newcomers, Arabs and Jews. It was even more important in the long-term relations between Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs, if one was to live in a region which ultimately would abide by peace treaties reached by the respective governments but also by the deep undertaking of the need to respect and appreciate each other.
Mr. Levy said today his country found itself facing a particularly difficult situation: Palestinian terrorist organizations were making increasing use of children and minors in acts of violence against Israelis. Over the past year, a large number of Palestinian children had been directly involved in the carrying out of such attacks. All too often they had lost their life or a limb in the process. That exploitation and manipulation of children, some as young as seven or eight years old, was a blatant violation of basic norms and principles of international law, and of children's rights. Children were still being encouraged to sacrifice themselves in terror attacks.
The death of any child, Palestinian or Israeli, was a terrible tragedy, Mr. Levy said. Ninety Israeli children had been killed; many more had been maimed, wounded or orphaned since the violence began in September 2000. Those children had been the tragic victims of brutal terrorist attacks and countless suicide bombings, on their city streets, and even in their homes. Due to those attacks, Israel had unfortunately had to develop extensive expertise and mechanisms to deal with terror trauma, especially with regard to children. It had enacted specific legislation to ensure financial support to the victims of the attacks.
SAVIONA ROTLEVY, Judge at the Ministry of Justice of Israel, said that it appeared to her that during the last few years, a real change in the approach of the Israeli society towards children's rights could be discerned. That had manifested itself in the gradual acknowledgement in the Israeli society that children were themselves the bearers of rights as individuals and human beings. Children, as well as parents, caretakers and the authorities, had begun to realize what the rights of children were, how those rights should be protected, and how they affected their daily life.
Ms. Rotlevy gave a comprehensive account of the functions and achievements of the special committee on children's rights which had the official task of recommending a comprehensive plan for the systematic implementation of the Convention in the law. It had taken upon itself, however, a bigger role, which was to bring about a change in the status of children in Israeli society and to ensure that the Government recognized its responsibility with respect to children.
Experts' Questions on General Measures, Definition of the Child, and General Principles
The Committee Experts raised questions under the first cluster of main issues concerning general measures of implementation, definition of the child, and general principles.
JACOB EGBERT DOEK, the Committee Expert who served as rapporteur on the report of Israel, said that the report was submitted very late; it was analytical and self-critical in quite a number of places. He said that poverty was widespread and had risen dramatically since the 1970s in Israel, and that an underclass was developing. Many Israeli children lived under the poverty line and the gap between the rich and poor was growing. There were also the social ills well known in the Western world: high divorce rates, alcohol and drug addiction and high unemployment rates.
Mr. Doek said that the report gave the impression that the Committee was dealing with a peaceful legally progressive country; unfortunately, the reality was different. The report completely ignored the status of the children in the occupied Palestinian territories and the very violent armed conflict that had been going on for two years. Only when the Committee asked specifically for more information about the children in the occupied territories had the State party explained in the written replies why it did not provide that information. It also gave very saddening information concerning the impact that the intifada had and was having on children in Israel.
Quoting an Amnesty International report dated October 2002, Mr. Doek said that more than 250 Palestinian and 72 Israeli children had been killed since the beginning of the intifada. They were among some 1,700 Palestinians and more than 580 Israelis, most of them civilians, who had been killed since 29 September 2000. Increasingly, children were bearing the brunt of the conflict, as both the Israeli Defence Forces and the Palestinian armed groups showed an utter disregard for the lives of children and other civilians. The pattern of killing children which had become so entrenched and widespread in the past two years had developed against a background of impunity for the perpetrators of such crimes over many years prior to the current intifada.
Mr. Doek said that the Committee was extremely concerned and deeply regretted the suffering of Palestinians, Israeli and other children within the State party's jurisdiction who should equally enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Convention. From a child's prospective, he said he was puzzled by the fact that adult people who so often questioned the competence of children failed miserably in creating a world despite all their competence in which children could live, survive and develop. As an adult, the situation filled him with deep sadness and a lot of anger about the incompetence of adults. Children suffered a lot in the world and the most worrisome fact was that it was most of the time the result of man-made disasters.
It was the opinion of the Committee that there was no reason to treat Israel differently, Mr. Doek said. The State party was responsible for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child for all the children within its jurisdiction, including the occupied territories. Palestine was not a State party to the Convention.
Another Expert said that the work on the activities of the rights of the child was carried out by several ministries. Was there a body in charge of the centralized coordination of the implementation of the Convention? Did such a mechanism include non-governmental organizations (NGOs)? Did the Government envisage to have a comprehensive national plan of action for children to comply with the request of the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children held in May 2002? Did NGOs receive funds from the Government once they were recognized by the authorities?
An Expert wanted to know the percentage of the budget allocated to children; the proportion of investment in education for Jewish and Israeli-Arab pupils; and about the percentage cuts on the budget concerning the rights of children. How did the Government collect revenue to ensure its national budget? Was there a progressive taxation system in Israel? What was the prospect of peace in the region? The internal closure of borders had been hampering Palestinians from enjoying their right to health, particularly mothers and children. The delegation was requested to comment on institutional discrimination against Israeli-Arabs.
Another Expert said that the Government of Israel should change the way it was looking at its population. The distinction between Jews and non-Jews might not reflect the actual reality. In the report, mention was made of a "school convention", what was meant by that? The situation of discrimination against Arab and Palestinian children was of concern; in addition, the conditions of children who had immigrated recently to Israel, such the Ethiopians, was worrying. The delegation should provide information on the whole situation.
A speaker said that it was a concern that there was no legislative mechanism for the implementation of the provisions of the Convention. In addition to the laws passed by the parliament, Jewish religious regulations existed on a parallel basis. Israel had international responsibility for the implementation of the Convention in the occupied Palestinian territories. The report had indicated that children of foreign origin did not receive any form of assistance from the Government; how were foreign children treated in schools.
An Expert said that the report was a very good achievement and it contained all the necessary information; however, it would have been excellent if it had included information on the situation of all children under Israeli jurisdiction -- especially those in the occupied Palestinian territories. She invited the delegation to translate the report into Arabic and to make it a subject of national dialogue, together with the Committee's conclusions on the report. She gave accounts of discrimination against 100,000 bedouins living in the desert areas; Ethiopians who were living separately from others; and Israeli-Palestinians who were subjected to discrimination.
Another Expert said that the report was of excellent quality although it was too long. She said that there had been reports of discrimination against people coming to Israel from Russia and Africa. She wanted to know how the different religious leaders were involved in the implementation of the provisions of the Convention.
An Expert asked about the prospect of children within the context of the current conflict. What was the impact of the conflict on children on both sides -- Israelis and Palestinians. Should the future of children be destroyed like the structures of the Palestinian Authority were being destroyed?
Response by Delegation of Israel
In response to the many questions raised by the Committee Experts, the members of the Israeli delegation said that the responsibility of the implementation of the Convention had been handed over to the Palestinian Authority, which controlled 98 per cent of the occupied territories. However, during the last two years, the rule of armed conflict had been applied in all cases. Israel had been respecting the Geneva conventions on the protection of civilians in times of war. The casualties that occurred during the conflict included children because of their involvement in the conflict. During the latest two-year conflict, children had been recruited, indoctrinated and used as suicide-bombers by Palestinian armed groups against Israeli civilians. The report of Amnesty International that alleged that cases of deaths of Palestinian children were not examined was wrong. The authorities had carried out investigations on such incidents.
The delegation said that the legal system in Israel was not constituted in such a way that allowed it to directly incorporate international treaties; the Government was promoting legislation with the view of implementing the provisions of the Convention; however, the provisions had already been implemented through the national legislation designed to promote and protect child rights. There was a shortage of coordination; however, once the Government succeeded in adopting a bill on the rights of the child, a mechanism on child complaints could be set up.
On the question on the quality of education of Israeli and Israeli-Arab children, the delegation said that the Government had insisted on equality and acceptability of education for all children. There was also a proposal by the Government to implement affirmative actions favouring vulnerable and immigrant children to end the discrepancy existing at present. Budgetary increases were also envisaged and there was a proposal to strengthen the infrastructure of schools and other educational facilities.
The delegation said that the 1949 law and other provisions enacted since then prohibited any form of discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin.
The national budget on education had been progressively increased by the Government with the view to embracing all children with different parental backgrounds, the delegation said. In addition, affirmative measures had been taken to encourage vulnerable children to continue their studies. Bedouins, Arabs and other groups had benefited from such affirmative actions. The educational budget did not include funds allocated to maintenance and development, which were aimed at expanding schools buildings and increasing educational equipment, including computers.
In order to upgrade the educational level of first grade teachers in primary schools, the Government would provide, starting next week, an on-the-job training programme involving 600 out of 1,360 teachers, the delegation said. It was found that the low educational performance by the pupils was attributed to the lack of literary exposure of the students by the teachers. The notion of literature would be emphasized during the courses given to the teachers during two years -- four-hour courses per week. The lack of educational counsellors for Arabic students had also been evident. The Government would therefore recruit at least 200 counsellors every year.
Asked about the discrepancies in dropout rates between Arab and Jewish students, the delegation said that the Government was attempting to decrease the number of dropouts of Arab students by introducing an extra-tuition system. The five-year plan had envisaged a drastic reduction in the rate of dropouts between ninth and twelfth grade students.
The delegation said that currently, there was no central authority that was designed to be solely charged with children's rights. There, was, however, coordination between the various ministries that dealt with those issues.
The Government of Israel was endeavouring to provide universally accepted health services in accordance with the standards of the World Health Organization (WHO), the delegation said. Health indicators were also indicators of other social parameters, such as poverty. The infant mortality rate for all groups -- Jews, Muslims, Christians and others -- dropped during the last decade. The main cause for infant mortality among Jews was prematurity whereas in the Muslim community it was congenital malformation because of inter-marriage between relatives. Immunization programmes covered 94 per cent of the population, with special emphasis on Arab communities.
The main cause of child mortality for children above one year old was injury, the delegation said, adding that the Government was much concerned about questions of injury prevention.
Asked about the legal status of Israelis living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the delegation said that the Israeli legislation, if it was not explicitly indicated, applied to citizens living within the boundary of Israel. However, since the Israelis living under the Palestinian Authorities did not pay taxes, they did not get the privileges provided by the Israeli State, such as education. Those who lived in Eastern Jerusalem and who had obtained Israeli nationality or permanent residence permits enjoyed the social benefits provided by Israel.
At least 130,000 Palestinians used to enter Israel on a daily basis to work, and they used to receive medical assistance during their stay, the delegation said. However, they were now hampered from entering into Israel by the closure of the boundary to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into the country.
Experts' Questions on Family Environment, Basic Health, Education, and Special Measures
The Committee Experts raised their final round of questions on main issues concerning family environment and alternative care; basic health and welfare; education, leisure and cultural activities; and special protection measures.
A question was raised by an Expert on why the military order no. 132 considered a Palestinian child of 16 years old as an adult; and if an Israeli child of the same age was considered as an adult. At present, there were a number of Palestinian children aged above 12 years detained by Israel. The major offence of those children was stone-throwing, which was considered as a threat to Israeli security. Those children taken to Israel had been mistreated physically and mentally. Parents were not allowed to visit their children.
Another Expert said that the Palestinian health system had been destroyed and many people had not received medical treatment for one year because of shortages in medicines and Israeli forces' interference in medical activities. She said that preventable infant death was occurring at check points due to lack of access to medical assistance. Hospitals and other medical centres were no more a safe haven for patients.
With regard to family environment, an Expert expressed concern about the absence of a law concerning the legal obligations of foster families. What was the difference between foster and shelter families? With regard to school grounds, the Expert said that there was water pollution; violence in schools; and restriction of students to play grounds.
How did the State of Israel cope with the various laws for marriage, such as the national law, Jewish law and special law for the occupied territories, another Expert asked. While the age of majority was 18 years, in some areas, the age of majority was 16 years. In addition, there should not be discrimination of age between the main and occupied territories. Palestinian children were arrested and taken to Israel just for throwing stones. Those children were badly treated in prisons, and their chance to be visited by their parents was limited.
With regard to education, an Expert said that its goal was focused in one direction and did not reflect the multi-cultural nature of the Israeli population. The other cultures should be respected, and only translating textbooks from the Jewish language into other languages was not sufficient. It was not right to impose one culture on the other cultures.
In response to the Committee's questions, the members of the Israeli delegation said that stone throwing could not be considered as a simple action by Palestinian children. A number of Israeli civilians had been severely hurt as a result of stone throwing.
With regard to these detainees, the delegation said that maximum access was allowed to families to visit their children; and a telephone service was also set up for that purpose. The parents of those children were informed about their arrest. The children were not detained together with adults, instead a special section was created for them. The Israeli authorities were in close contact with the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) and visits were carried out by its representatives.
Concerning ambulances, the delegation said that the authorities were obliged to stop and check ambulances transporting patients because some terrorists had abused the ambulances and used them to transport terrorists and bombs. Even ambulances bearing Israeli emblems were checked because of the terrorists' misuse of stolen Israeli ambulances.
The delegation said that Israel had evacuated southern Lebanon, however, the Hezbolah movement was still threatening the inhabitants of northern Israel through its trans-boundary attacks.
The delegation requested that the Committee include in its recommendations its concern about the right to life and survival of Israeli children in light of terrorist attacks, and to ask the Palestinian Authority why its educational system was based on incitement to hatred of Israel; the Committee should also insist that Palestinian children be kept away from the conflict.
Preliminary Concluding Remarks
JACOB EGBERT DOEK, Chairperson and Committee Expert who acted as rapporteur on the report of Israel, said that the Committee got a lot of clarifications from the delegation and was able to understand the position of Israel on different issues. A lot of efforts had to be made to implement the Convention and to make it a reality for the children, whether or not they were Jews. So far, the Israeli authorities were on the right track and they should continue with their efforts.
Mr. Doek said that the Committee's concern would be reflected in the concluding observations and recommendations which it was going to adopt on Friday, 4 October. Some of its concern would focus on the conditions of Palestinian children in the occupied territories. The Committee had confidence that the Israeli authorities would take into account its concerns.