The increasing exploitation of children by Palestinian extremists is largely the result of the Islamization of the conflict with Israel. Beyond Gaza and the West Bank, there’s a long and dishonorable tradition of child exploitation by Islamic extremists. Ayatollah Khomeini used Iranian children in frontal assaults against the Iraqis during the 1980-88 war, while both al-Qaeda and the Taliban, when they’re not simply killing children, regularly use them as bombers, decoys, and human shields.
As the Islamists are fond of telling us, they love death more than we love life, and if their children aren’t as instinctively keen on the idea, well they’d better get used to it. The only thing Palestinian terrorist groups love more than dead Israelis is dead Palestinians; hence, the chilling mixture of grief and ecstasy so often seen at the funerals. And if they’re children then so much the better. Dead children are worth their weight in gold in propaganda terms in a conflict where the world’s media sides with those who are perceived to be suffering the most, regardless of the root causes of that suffering, and regardless of how much of that suffering is self-inflicted.
The politicians and diplomats can keep up the pretense of a peace process all they like, but as long as Gaza’s summer schools keep turning out the next generation of holy warriors, the prospects for a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are as bleak as ever. Lasting peace can only come when the cycle of father-to-son indoctrination and radicalization is broken, and a generation has grown up without violence. It’s been done elsewhere — it’s happening in Northern Ireland right now — but it’s hard to see Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terror groups giving up terrorism or stopping the systematic abuse of children. Their hostility towards Israel has little to do with land, borders, or other issues that can be negotiated over, and everything to do with a timeless, visceral hatred. And, as recent events have reminded the world, when the extremists aren’t fighting Israel they’re only too willing to fight, murder, and torture one another.
There are glimmers of hope. Haaretz carried the remarkable story of Joseph, (formerly Masab) Yousef, the son of West Bank Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who has converted to Christianity and moved to the United States. He’s scathing about his father’s organization — particularly its indoctrination of children — and blames Islam for much of the Palestinians’ hardship. Yousef hopes to set up a Christian organization to promote peace in the Palestinian territories. He says: “I would like to teach the young people how to love and forgive, because that’s the only way the two nations can overcome the mistakes of the past and live in peace.”
Yousef’s attitude is inspiring, and his optimism commendable. But in a part of the world where religion, politics, and violence have become so densely entangled, Yousef will be fortunate if he isn’t murdered for apostasy before he’s able to spread his message of reconciliation. Sidelining the Islamic extremists and empowering the moderates would be an important step towards peace, but so far the Israeli government, the U.S. State Department, and the various other parties trying to revive the “peace process,” haven’t enjoyed much success in that area. So tight is the grip of the extremists, particularly in Gaza, and such is the deference afforded to the killers and kidnappers by much of the media, some aid organizations and human rights groups, and certain politicians (take a bow Jimmy Carter), that it’s hard to see where a breakthrough might come.
Golda Meir nailed it a long time ago when she said that peace would only come to the Middle East “when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us” — sentiments that are echoed by Joseph Yousef.
Sadly, the Palestinians appear to have made little progress in that regard. The self-pitying, the grievance mongering, and the culture of unending, glorious violence fostered by their leaders and allies suggest that many more generations of young Gazans are doomed to spend their summers playing with rocket launchers and aspiring to an early and violent death.