Who’s afraid of Hamas summer camps?

As Israel continues to train its children to kill, Hamas summer camps are certainly a useful distraction.

Palestinian youths attend a summer camp organised by the Hamas movement in Gaza City on June 26, 2021 [File: AFP/ Mahmud Hams]
Palestinian youths attend a summer camp organised by the Hamas movement in Gaza City on June 26, 2021 [File: AFP/ Mahmud Hams]

Recently, Lawrence J Haas of the American Foreign Policy Council took to the pages of Newsweek to publicise a dangerous phenomenon: “Western Silence as Gaza Summer Camps Train Future Terrorists”.

According to Haas – whose panties have been propelled into a massive bunch by the (hallucinated) idea that Western media and academia are obsessed with a “narrative of Israeli oppression and Palestinian victimisation” – Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are teaching teenage boys in the Gaza Strip how to “shoot guns, launch anti-tank missiles and protect themselves while peering around walls”.

Fortunately, however, alleged “silence” about the summer camps has been more than compensated for by the likes of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) – a notorious US taxpayer-subsidised factory of Zionist propaganda – and similarly devoted institutions.

At the beginning of July, for example, the Times of Israel reported that Hamas was training young campers to kidnap Israeli soldiers. Around the same time, a dispatch at the Long War Journal – a project of the neoconservative US think tank Foundation for the Defence of Democracies – warned that the summer camps were part of “the build up of military strength to continue waging jihad against Israel”.

And on July 12, the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs sounded the alarm about “Hamas’ Summer Indoctrination Camps for 50,000 Children”, where kids are taught kidnapping techniques and weapons handling and are also instructed in the use of “computer simulators to practice shooting Israeli soldiers and police officers at the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque”.

The report contends that not only is Hamas’ purported “indoctrination of children… cruel and inhumane, stripping these children of their childhood and naïveté”, it is also a violation of international humanitarian law, as the campers are said to qualify as “child soldiers” based on the 2007 Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups.

Readers are then subjected to a compilation of other ways Hamas violates international human rights laws pertaining to children – ranging from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which, inter alia, “prohibits children under the age of 15 from directly engaging in hostilities”.

This brings us to the following question: Why, if the rights of the child are so sacred, do they spontaneously disappear whenever the Israeli military undertakes to slaughter children? In the same vein, if Israel is so opposed to the concept of child soldiers, why does it treat kids as military targets?

During Israel’s latest 11-day attack on the Gaza Strip in May, dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls, at least 67 children were killed out of more than 250 Palestinian fatalities. In summer 2014, Operation Protective Edge dispensed with 2,251 lives in Gaza over the course of 50 days – among them no fewer than 551 children. And during Operation Cast Lead, which spanned 22 days in 2008-2009, the Israeli army massacred some 300 children, as well as approximately 1,100 adults.

Indeed, if we want to talk about international law, Israel’s own behaviour basically constitutes one continuous violation thereof.

In his Newsweek rant, Haas describes summer camp in Gaza as “not the swimming and softball, hiking and cookouts that many of us fondly recall”. Likewise, the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs laments that, in the Palestinian coastal enclave, “summer camp looks very different” than elsewhere in the world, and does not involve “playing soccer or outdoor camping”.

Granted, there are also not many places in the world where children playing outdoor summer soccer are liable to get blown to pieces by an Israeli air attack – as happened in July 2014, meriting the almost criminally ambiguous New York Times headline: “Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Centre of Mideast Strife”.

Fast-forward to summer 2018, when the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs uploaded a video to YouTube with the caption: “What are your children doing this #summer? #Hamas in #Gaza is depriving young Palestinians of their childhood by poisoning their minds with hatred & violence”.

The video features an Israeli woman with a baby, who expresses concern that “Hamas summer camps are creating a dangerous reality for Palestinian children” and “destroying the future of young Palestinians”. Never mind that Hamas are not the ones occupying, besieging, and pathologically bombing the territory in question, while simultaneously inflicting mass mental trauma on its youth.

The Zionists up in arms over summer camp activities in Gaza would meanwhile do well to reflect on the content of Israeli summer camp programmes – such as those detailed in a 2019 article appearing on Israel’s CTech technology news site: “Fun and Games and Shooting Down Enemy Planes”, in which we are told that, in Israel, the “new trend in summertime fun is military-themed summer camps and courses”.

Forget swimming and cookouts; Israeli kids can now spend their summer holidays in a “state-of-the-art F16 fighter jet simulator developed by American aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin”. They can “recreate the 1981 Israeli air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad”, participate in “boot camp” at a paintball field with a “special set designed for urban warfare: densely-built houses, burned vehicles, and sniper posts”, or enrol in “counterterrorism 101” and “aggression training”.

Or, they can “train in thwarting cyberattacks and other skills that could help them secure a place at [Israeli cyber spy agency] Unit 8200 and other top cyberwarfare units when they reach enlistment age”. According to an instructor interviewed for the article, “each one of the kids participating in the summer programme already knows how to block someone from getting online”.

In other words, Palestinian kids learning how to “protect themselves while peering around walls” sounds rather benign in comparison.

It bears mentioning that Israeli summer camps without explicit military themes often incorporate some sort of military aspect, too. The website of a certain “Israel Extreme” camp, for instance, advertises activities such as water sports, paragliding, Israeli army base visits, and spelunking – in that order. The camp’s staff, it is specified, all “served in the military’s special forces”.

Of course, the fact that even spelunking should effectively be militarised is hardly surprising in a country where, as Haim Bresheeth-Zabner rigorously documents in his book, An Army Like No Other, “military service starts before birth” and the army is the “centre of Israeli existence”.

Long before Israelis begin their compulsory stints in the armed forces, Bresheeth-Zabner writes, they undergo psychological preparation “for the violence they will need to effect and employ during their adult life”. For a nation that has “made conflict and war its essence”, the arrangement is no doubt facilitated by the military’s deep involvement in “all Israeli academic institutions”, with academia constituting a “racialised part of the apartheid machinery” and academics “partners of the military-industrial complex”.

Himself the son of Holocaust survivors who moved to the newly invented state of Israel in 1948, Bresheeth-Zabner recalls an episode during the 1950s when he and other schoolchildren were “successfully harangued into donating their meagre pennies” to Israel’s rearmament efforts.

So much for childhood.

And as Israel continues to train its children to kill – now with the help of massive financial donations from the global superpower – Hamas summer camps are certainly a useful distraction.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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