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U.N. Kids Session Criticizes Israel, but Pressure Kills Any Resolutions

May 14, 2002
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A combination of American, Jewish and Israeli pressure — along with a growing backlash against the U.N.’s focus on the plight of the Palestinians — managed to forestall the anti-Israel resolutions expected at a special United Nations session on children.

The six-day conference, which ended last Friday, devoted the first few days to an all-children’s assembly and the last portion to a session with adults.

Itai Shamir, chaperone of the Israeli children’s delegation, characterized the weeklong conference as “extremely successful.”

But, he added, “you could smell” a bit of “the politics in the air,” when the adults arrived for the second portion of the program.

After young Palestinians made a presentation at a program called “Living Under Occupation: The Status of Palestinian Children,” they refused to mingle with the Israeli teens they had met earlier.

They said they didn’t have enough time, but the Israeli kids didn’t buy it.

They’re afraid to be too friendly with all the adults watching them, said Elad Schaffer, 17.

The conference did not discuss how Israeli children are affected by Palestinian suicide bombings. And two anti- Israel efforts were under way — a resolution condemning Israel for its treatment of Palestinian children and a procedural maneuver to remove Israel’s credentials to represent the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In the end, however, the Palestinians didn’t push for a vote on either motion.

Evelyn Sommer, president of the Women’s International Zionist Organization, emphasized that the United States helped prevent anti-Israel resolutions from marring the conference.

The United States did not want a repeat of last year’s U.N. anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, when the U.S. delegation walked out because of the virulently anti-Semitic atmosphere.

Also important in moderating the tone were behind-the-scenes efforts by B’nai B’rith, WIZO and Israeli representatives, said Dina Siegel Vann, the U.N. and Latin American affairs director for B’nai B’rith International.

She also praised the support of Australia, Canada and Latin American countries.

Increasingly, other countries are beginning to realize that the Arab world’s relentless focus on the Palestinians at U.N.-sponsored events is “taking away from their own agenda,” said Vann.

They also see that the resolutions against Israel are destructive and “futile exercises,” she said.

Countries also were reluctant to mention specific conflicts in the conference’s resolutions, which would have marked a first in the history of U.N. special sessions, an Israeli official added.

Israel’s official delegation at the all-children’s assembly — Schaffer and Michal Luft — joined its ambassador to the United Nations, Yehuda Lancry, and Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit in a 35-minute meeting with U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan on May 9 to ask his help in preventing the conference’s politicization. Annan agreed, an Israeli official said.

Luft said she would tell Annan that “we need the help of all the leaders of the world to try to stop the terror together so we can go to negotiations with the Palestinians.”

But Luft’s opinions weren’t shared by Palestinian presenter Gineen Abu-Roqti, 15, who was reluctant to speak to JTA.

Suicide bombers are not terrorists, and Palestinians must employ “any action” to obtain their homeland, she said.

Luft — who celebrated her 17th birthday less than two weeks ago at the pool hall in Rishon le-Zion where a suicide bomber killed 15 and injured more than 60 Israelis last week — said Abu-Roqti’s argument frightened her.

Suicide bombings are “the most sophisticated terror because it’s directed toward Israeli civilians, it’s not against the” Israel Defense Force “or something like that,” she said.

Schaffer, an Israeli peace activist and two-time graduate of Seeds of Peace, a summer camp in Maine devoted to fostering peace and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, was disappointed with the dialogue at the conference.

He was positive about a lengthy conversation he had with Iranians, Jordanians and a Palestinian. In general, while he voiced his personal opinions on the conflict, he felt his Arab peers sounded like mouthpieces for leaders in the Arab world.

“I believe the political issues are solvable,” Schaffer said. His concern involves the much more difficult “peace between people,” which becomes even more elusive “if incitement is spread,” he said.

Israeli Guy Frishman, 17, was distressed at what he called the “lies” and “disinformation” at the session.

It’s “so sad” that people “block whole nations of children” from each other, he said.

Frishman was one of five other youths representing Israel at the conference.

Both Luft and Frishman described the personal cost of living with terror.

“We have been living in fear every day,” Frishman said.

You never know if you’ll see yourself in the mirror the next morning, Luft added.

But Luft, perhaps the most optimistic of her Israeli peers, was hopeful. She recalled conversations at the conference with compassionate, open-minded Arab kids about the Arab-Israeli conflict — and even finding less controversial connections in music and fashion.

The Arab kids “became really good friends of us,” she said. “If we could only run the negotiations,” she added with a laugh.

“I know someday we’ll have peace because” it can’t remain like this, Luft said. “And I really, really hope in the near future I will have Palestinian friends to talk to then, and Gineen will be part of my friends.

“She lives in Ramallah, I live in Modi’in,” which are only 20 minutes apart, she noted.

As the conference came to a close, both children and adults in the Israeli and Palestinian delegations had parting words of peace and hope, Shamir said.

It “gave some degree of hope that one day the Israeli people and the Palestinian people can live side by side and there is hope to rebuild the trust.”

Luft said she doesn’t blame her Palestinian peers for the conflict, just their leadership.

But Abu-Roqti defended Arafat — “If we didn’t like him, why would we choose him?” she asked.

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