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How Gaza Kids Are Spending Their Vacation

No arts and crafts or nature hikes in summer camps for budding terrorists.

by
Mike McNally

Bio

August 12, 2008 - 12:02 am

It’s that time of year again: school’s out, the kids are under your feet, and, much as you love the little brats, you find your patience being tested. Eventually, after clearing yet another dirty plate, or tripping over a discarded sneaker, you give them a well-deserved piece of your mind: “Why don’t you get out of the house and do something useful, like memorize the Koran or learn how to fire a shoulder-launched rocket?”

In Gaza, parents have no such frustrations. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, ever mindful of their responsibilities as pillars of the Palestinian community, are running their annual summer camps for thousands of youngsters. And these children won’t be wasting their time going on nature walks or visiting the Smuggled Animals Zoo. In addition to receiving healthy doses of religious and political indoctrination, they’ll be learning how to handle weapons and navigate assault courses.

Hamas, the terrorist organization that rules Gaza, is running camps for as many as 150,000 children. Ynet News reports that “the focus is on familiarizing kids with the Palestinian towns and cities destroyed in 1948, as well as instilling religious fervor in them. The camps also feature sports and military-type training such as crawling under barbed-wire.” (I wish I’d been taught how to crawl under barbed wire properly as a youngster — it would’ve made escaping from irate farmers after another botched fruit raid with my cousins a lot easier.)

The curriculum is similar at the Islamic Jihad camps, where “the kids study passages from the Koran and participate in quizzes on religious matters, with emphasis on the required commitment to political prisoners and Palestinian land. They also learn how to hold a Qassam rocket-launcher.”

An Islamic Jihad operative was at pains to point out to Ynet that children would only be handling dummy rockets, not real ones. Allah forbid that they should play with real Qassams or Katyushas — someone could lose an eye.

It’s reassuring to know the camp staff are so mindful of their charges’ welfare. They don’t want anyone getting hurt — at least not before they’ve been wired with explosives, wrapped in ball bearings, and dispatched to some bar, bus station, or shopping mall in Israel.

In a video report about the camps at Haaretz.com, children are shown going through martial arts routines, learning how to take a prisoner, and performing the high-stepping speed march that for some reason is standard practice for the militias of dictatorships. And while the children jump through plastic hoops on the parade ground (another sure-fire sign of fascistic inclinations), their minders jump through semantic ones, insisting that the camps preach a message of peace before rattling off the usual lists of grievances and demands.

But mostly the young campers shout. They shout a lot. They shout “Kill!” “Slaughter!” “Blow up!” and “Charge!” (They’re probably parroting the phrases at random rather than memorizing some particular battlefield tactic, otherwise “Charge!” would surely have to come before “Blow up!”) Some — presumably the star pupils from the propaganda workshop — make hysterical speeches proclaiming their loyalty to the “struggle.” The motto for these camps could well be “Give me the child, and I will give you the martyr.”

None of this should come as much of a surprise. It was Hamas, after all, that brought us the spectacle of children’s TV shows in which cartoon-like characters spew hatred and glorify violence. And Palestinian terror groups certainly like to start their killers young. Samir Kuntar, recently freed by Israel, was just 16 when he battered four-year-old Einat Haran to death after shooting her father, during an attack on the Israeli town of Nahariya in 1979. Einat’s two-year-old sister and two Israeli police officers also died. Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, several 16-year-olds have carried out suicide bombings, while children as young as 14 and 15 have been arrested for planning bombings, or intercepted on their way to carry out attacks.

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.

Mike McNally is a journalist based in Bath, England. He posts at PJ Tatler and at his own blog Monkey Tennis, and tweets at @notoserfdom. When he's not writing about politics he writes about Photoshop.
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