Whether attacks are ‘indiscriminate’ or ‘deliberate’, education needs protection

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By Pauline Rose, senior policy analyst, Education for All Global Monitoring Report

A flurry of recent news items have referred to what many describe as Justice Richard Goldstone’s “retraction” of criticism of Israel in his 2009 report to the UN General Assembly on the effects of the 2008-2009 conflict in Gaza. Based on new evidence provided by Israeli investigations, Goldstone states that “if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

Reading Goldstone’s opinion piece in The Washington Post, however, it is clear that he is much more guarded than the reports in the press suggest. At issue is a reconsideration of intentionality, rather than a retraction of whether or not civilians were killed: “Although the Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn’t negate the tragic loss of civilian life,” he writes, “I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.”

There is a need to move beyond semantics of whether civilian deaths or attacks on education are a result of ‘deliberate’ or ‘indiscriminate’ attacks. Rather, the media and legal systems should be turning their attention to the real issues – the failure to protect civilians, children, teachers and schools, which we highlighted in the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

The casualities of the conflict in Gaza include many children killed, wounded or displaced. For many survivors, the trauma they face has disrupted their education and opportunity for a normal future. Justice Goldstone reported that 280 schools and kindergartens were destroyed or badly damaged. While the scale is different, the Goldstone Report also criticizes Hamas for attacks on civilians, although there has been no reconsideration of whether these were also indiscriminate rather than deliberate.

It is not only in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that children, schools, teachers and education systems are on the frontline. The 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report and UNESCO’s Education Under Attack report identify numerous examples. In recent days, escalating violence in Yemen is reported to have resulted in children being killed, and teachers attacked. As one father commented: “My eldest daughter Sarah saw her female teacher bleeding from her head after `thugs’ hurled stones at a female teachers’ protest last week. Now, she is scared. She refuses to go to school without me escorting her.”

The 2011 Global Monitoring Report calls for a strengthening of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, set up by the United Nations to record grave violations against children, so that it includes more systematic and rigorous recording of attacks on education. The 2011 GMR also argues that protection from attack requires moving beyond just “naming and shaming” to developing clearer mechanisms to ensure that persistent violators are held to account for their actions, with the Security Council referring cases to the International Criminal Court for investigation.

Only then can we begin to hope that children will be able to continue their education in safety.


1 comment

  1. Too much effort has been used by the media to point fingers as to the how, who, and why there have been attacks on education in Gaza, yet little attention has been focused on how to protect the civilians, children, teachers and schools that have become the innocent bystanders of these aggressive actions. By neglecting this, we are allowing a culture of fear and aggression to spread.

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