Hamas has called on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to register their young boys for summer military camps. "The camps aim to ignite the flame of jihad in the generation of liberation, to instill Islamic values and to prepare the next triumphant army for the liberation of Palestine," Hamas said in a statement. Pictured: Masked gunmen from Hamas' Izaddin al-Qassam Brigades register children for their summer camps, on June 14, 2021, in Gaza City. (Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images)
As the international community seeks ways to help the residents of the Gaza Strip after the recent war between Israel and Hamas, the leaders of the Palestinians are busy preparing the next generation for more hate and violence.
The two major Palestinian groups controlling the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), recently launched campaigns to recruit thousands of Palestinian children and teenagers to their own summer camps.
The young recruits are not going to be taught how to swim or play soccer. They are not going to be part of a Palestinian Cub Scouts.
Instead, the goal of the camps, according to Hamas and PIJ, is "to ignite the flame of jihad [holy war] among the generation of liberation, instill Islamic values and prepare the next triumphant army for the liberation of Palestine."
The camps, run by the armed wings of Hamas and PIJ, Izaddin al-Qassam Brigades and Al-Quds Brigades, are being held under the banners "Sword of Jerusalem" and "Vanguards of Liberation."
"Sword of Jerusalem" is the name Hamas chose to describe last month's fighting with Israel, during which more than 4,000 rockets and missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. "Vanguards of Liberation" is a term used by Palestinian groups to describe their wish to "liberate all of Palestine," from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea -- a euphemism for the elimination of Israel.
The military camps of Hamas and PIJ "aim to train the young men in shooting and military and security skills," according to reports from the Gaza Strip. "They also aim to boost their morale and prepare them for the next confrontation [with Israel] that could be close."
Ahmad al-Ra'i, a spokesperson for the PIJ, said that the summer camps "aim to consolidate the presence of the Palestinian cause in the minds and hearts of Palestinian youths, and to consolidate the achievements of the Sword of Jerusalem battle in their minds as an important station in the history of the conflict."
The camps, he added, also "aim to consolidate the love and spirit of jihad and resistance among the Palestinian people, especially the youths."
Ra'i pointed out that his group targeted a group of boys aged 14-17 to participate in its summer camps. He said that one of the reasons why his group was recruiting Palestinian children was because Israel was already targeting them by "exposing them to Western culture."
He revealed that thousands of young Palestinians have "flocked to register in the camps."
The camps carry several messages, al-Ra'i said. "Most notably, that Palestinian Islamic Jihad confirms that its fingers are still on the trigger" and that the Palestinians "are preparing the liberation generation for the 'great liberation' battle for this blessed land." The camps, he added, also send a message to Arab and Muslims that "the flame of the conflict [with Israel] is being maintained."
The spokesperson advised Israel to pay attention to the summer camps because "they will produce a generation that will liberate Palestine."
Hamas, for its part, announced that registration for its summer camps began on June 14 and targets not only school children, but university students and adults as well.
Hamas called on Palestinians to register for the camps at various mosques in the Gaza Strip. "The camps aim to ignite the flame of jihad in the generation of liberation, to instill Islamic values and to prepare the next triumphant army for the liberation of Palestine," Hamas said in a statement.
Over the past few days, videos of masked Hamas gunmen appealing to Palestinians in a mosque to send their children to the summer camps appeared on various social media platforms. Photos of dozens of Palestinian children lining up to register for the Hamas and PIJ camps have also appeared on various Palestinian media outlets.
The recruitment of thousands of Palestinian children to the Jihad summer camps of Hamas and PIJ is taking place as United Nations and other mediators are shuttling between Israel and the Gaza Strip in an attempt to reach agreement on the reconstruction of the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.
The leaders of the Iranian-backed Hamas and PIJ are hoping that the mediation efforts will lead to the resumption of international aid to the Gaza Strip, including rebuilding many homes that were destroyed during the last round of fighting with Israel.
Instead of investing their money in the reconstruction effort, Hamas and PIJ are diverting their budgets to training children to become soldiers in the war to destroy Israel. They have enough funds to launch camps to brainwash and indoctrinate their own children, but are not prepared to invest in rebuilding homes that were destroyed or damaged during the last Israel-Hamas war.
For Hamas and PIJ, the ambition to destroy Israel is evidently stronger than the desire to protect the lives of their children and raise them to become, say, doctors or engineers. The children who are now undergoing military training in the Gaza Strip will soon appear as masked men in the armed groups of Hamas and PIJ.
Disturbingly, this grotesque exploitation of children and their recruitment as combatants is being entirely ignored by the international community, including the mediators who are negotiating with Hamas and PIJ about ways of maintaining the ceasefire that was reached with Israel after last month's fighting.
According to UNICEF, also known as the United Nations Children's Fund, "the recruitment and use of children by armed forces is a grave violation of child rights and international humanitarian law." It now remains to be seen whether UNICEF and other international human rights organizations will muster the wherewithal to call out the Palestinian groups for this form of child exploitation. Failure to do so would only encourage Hamas and PIJ to continue their efforts to mobilize children as soldiers.
The silence of the international community on this monstrous child abuse will result in a new generation of Palestinian jihadists to join the war against Israel. This bodes rather ill for the Biden administration's talk about a "two-state solution" and the need to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.