THE Israeli Embassy in Canberra has blasted Monday’s ABC Four Corners program on the treatment of Palestinian children in the West Bank by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) as “one-sided and biased”.
The program, presented by journalist John Lyons of The Australian, accused the IDF of intimidation and targeting Palestinian boys for arrest and detention, focusing on three boys who were arrested in the middle of the night and then allegedly mistreated and forced to sign confessions.
It also accused Israel of operating two legal systems in the West Bank – one for Jews and one for Palestinians.
In a statement to The AJN, a senior embassy official said the program “failed to recognise the real and present danger faced by Israeli civilians and soldiers by the ongoing terrorist activity taking place against them”.
“It is surprising that this lengthy documentary, despite its main contention, barely gave lip service to the perhaps inconvenient truth that Israel’s security establishment is currently working in good faith with UNICEF to positively build on its own internal reforms and processes, despite the resulting increase in danger that may be faced by Israeli soldiers and citizens from such reforms,” the official said.
“The seeming willingness of some in the media to turn a blind eye to the all-too-worrying realities faced by children in other Middle Eastern countries who are maimed, murdered and tortured by their own governments is deeply troubling as they choose instead to obsess over Israel, whose genuine efforts to implement a just and protective legal process under international law are ignored.”
In the wake of the screening of the documentary, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop expressed her concerns at the allegations.
“The Australian government welcomes Israel’s ongoing efforts to address these issues … [and] regularly raises human rights issues in appropriate fora, including the UN Human Rights Council,” she said.
Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesperson Tanya Plibersek said she was “shocked”.
“Those who have come forward with these reports should be commended, as should the Israeli and Palestinian advocates working to protect children,” she said.
“Threats to the safety of children, physical, verbal or otherwise, can never be tolerated.”
Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) president Robert Goot said the program “paid insufficient attention to the very real difficulties faced by those who have the job of maintaining law and order; and to the suffering on both sides”.
“First, it is international law … that requires Israel to treat Palestinian minors in the West Bank in accordance with the legal system in place there for non-Israeli residents. Extending Israeli law to those non-Israeli residents of the West Bank would almost certainly be condemned as tantamount to annexation,” he said.
“Second, as the program acknowledged, stone throwing is potentially lethal and frequently results in grave injuries.
“Third, as UNICEF’s most recent (October 2013) report noted, Israel has cooperated with UNICEF and has made significant improvements.”
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) executive director Colin Rubenstein labelled the program “intellectually weak and fundamentally misleading”.
“Viewers were expected to abandon critical faculties and accept that every word spoken by Palestinians was true, despite a long documented history of Palestinian distortions and fabrications against Israel,” he said.
“The relentless incitement in Palestinian society, including from their government, which fills children with such hatred of Israel, and the recruitment that sees them throwing rocks at soldiers and civilians, or taking part in terror attacks … was completely unmentioned.”
Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) president Philip Chester said the program “failed the test of unbiased independent reporting on which the ABC prides itself”.
“At its core the lack of a balanced exploration of the issues is the most problematic aspect of the Four Corners piece,” he said.
“To take the principal Israeli commentator from the extreme right of the settlement movement was a deliberate choice designed to limit information and discussion on the issues and to give a negative portrayal of the Israeli position.
“Attempts to minimise or erase the severity of the crimes perpetrated by Palestinian minors and their adult role models work against an enduring solution and the establishment of an environment in which such a solution can thrive.”
New Israel Fund (NIF) Australia president Robin Margo was more nuanced in his response.
“Positive changes have been made to the military legislation that touches upon these issues over the last few years, yet there are still serious deficiencies that lead to the serious and systematic violation of the rights of minors in the military legal system,” he said.