The use and recruitment of children under the age of 15 as soldiers is not only illegal under international law, but is also defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court.
This law applies both to state armed forces and non-state armed forces; in other words, Palestinian groups cannot claim innocence for using children in combat under the guise that their paramilitary groups are not acting on behalf of a sovereign nation.
In 2005, Amnesty International stated: “Palestinian armed groups have repeatedly shown total disregard for the most fundamental human rights, notably the right to life, by deliberately targeting Israeli civilians and by using Palestinian children in armed attacks.”
The psychological effects for child soldiers are devastating. Research conducted among Palestinian and Ugandan child soldiers found that 50 percent of former child soldiers experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Others suffer from major depressive disorder, hostility, sadness, low self-confidence, and an inability to cope with daily life.
The recruitment of minors for combat by Palestinian militants dates back to the final years of the Ottoman occupation of Palestine (1517-1917). Youths were at the forefront of the opposition against Jewish immigration, and an attitude developed that children had a “duty to sacrifice themselves.”
During the infamous 1929 Hebron Massacre, when 69 Jews were murdered and the most ancient continuous Jewish community in Palestine was decimated, Arab youths instigated the violence.
As relations between Nazi Germany and the Arab world developed, the powerful Husseini family founded the Palestinian Arab Party, modelled after the Nazi Party in Germany. Inspired by the Hitler Youth, the party created a Nazi-like scout group named “Al-Futuwwa.” That same year, the A-Futuwwa youth corps began Nazi-inspired military training. Al-Futuwwa adopted the following motto: “Liberty is my right; independence is my goal; Arabism is my principle; Palestine is my country and mine only. This I attest and God is a witness to my words.”
With the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, the PLO created military training programs for boys and girls.
During the First Intifada (1987-1993), a culture of Palestinian youth stone-throwing emerged, quickly linking stone-throwing to martyrdom. During the Second Intifada (2000-2005), at least nine children carried out suicide bombings against Israelis.
As stated in the prior slide, the first militarized training camps for Palestinian children were established in the 1930s, inspired by the Hitler Youth. The group was known as Al-Futuwwa.
This practice resurged with the establishment of the PLO in 1964. Palestinian children were subjected to military training with the aim of “strengthening Palestinian national self-awareness” and upholding a “revolutionary culture.”
In 2000, 25,000 Palestinian boys were taught “kidnapping, ambushing, and using assault weapons” at a training camp run by former Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat’s staff.
In September 2012, Hamas, the Islamist, antisemitic, extremist terrorist organization that runs the Gaza Strip, instituted a new military training program for school boys in Gaza, also named Al-Futuwwa. The program implemented the following: (1) a two-week military training camp, (2) weekly “military” classes, and (3) “practical activities.” The curriculum targeted some 37,000 boys, who were taught to use Kalashnikov assault rifles, hand grenades, and other explosive devises.
During the Second Intifada (2000-2005), Palestinian groups recruited children as militants in a number of ways; most notably and devastatingly, at least nine suicide bombings were carried out by Palestinian children.
In 2004, the Israeli military intercepted an 11-year-old Palestinian boy carrying explosive devices on his person through a checkpoint in Nablus.
In 2000, the then Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Ekrima Sa'id Sabri made a statement in support of suicide attacks carried out by children: “The younger the martyr, the more I respect him.”
In 2003, the United Nations Secretary General stated: “We have witnessed both ends of these acts: children have been used as suicide bombers and children have been killed by suicide bombings. I call on the Palestinian authorities to do everything within their powers to stop all participation by children in this conflict.”
Israel has long accused the Palestinian authorities of using civilians — including children — as human shields. Other international groups — including groups that are generally quite hostile to Israel, such as the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch — have also made such accusations.
During the Second Intifada, Palestinian militants would often surround themselves with children while shooting at the Israel forces. In 2006, the Israeli Air Force warned Mohammed Weil Baroud to evacuate his house, from which he’d been firing missiles aimed at Israeli civilians. Instead, Baroud gathered hundreds of Palestinian civilians around his home — including women and children — and Israel suspended the air strike. A Hamas leader stated the following in response: “We have won. From now on we will form human chains around every house that is threatened with demolition.”
In 2009, Hamas fired missiles from a United Nations school for girls. This was confirmed by local Palestinians. In 2012, Hamas repeatedly fired from hospitals, schools, mosques, and playgrounds. This practice unfortunately continues to this day.
Hamas runs both Shehab News and the Al-Aqsa Media Network. Al-Aqsa Media is known for its virulently antisemitic content; for example, the children’s program Tomorrow’s Pioneers, which ran from 2007 to 2009, quite literally encouraged Palestinian children to murder Jews. Children’s characters made statements such as: “We will annihilate the Jews,” and “[I] will finish off the Jews and eat them.”
Palestinian schoolbooks frequently espouse overt antisemitism, as well as demonization Jews, Israelis, and Israel. Hamas has repeatedly interfered with the curriculums of United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools, including the decision to suspend any education on the Holocaust in 2009. UNRWA teachers have also been caught posting explicitly antisemitic content online, such as content praising Hitler.
From 2002 to at least 2006, the Hamas-run biweekly online magazine for children, Al-Fatah (“The Conqueror”), praised suicide bombers and attacks on the “Jewish enemy.”
Before proceeding any further, a caveat: Israel too has been accused of “glorifying” military culture, with children being taught to look forward to their military draft. That said, the two situations are not remotely similar. First, Israel does not recruit minors for military operations. Israel does not fire from civilian-populated areas, and certainly not from areas populated by children. Independent studies have found that, while both Israeli and Palestinian school textbooks generally don’t offer a very sympathetic view of the other side, Palestinian textbooks overwhelmingly glorify martyrdom, whereas Israeli textbooks emphasize peace.
The militarization and radicalization of Palestinian children is a form of child abuse, and it has grave implications.
A clinical psychologist at Tel Aviv University, Shafiq Masalha, found that during the Second Intifada (2000-2005), 15 percent of Palestinian children dreamt of becoming suicide bombers. According to the director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, Eyad Sarraj, 36 percent of Palestinian children over the age of 12 aspire to die “a martyr’s death.”
A 2012 study on Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab Israeli children found that exposure to the conflict and violence increased aggressive behavior. It stated: "Palestinian children were at the greatest risk for exposure to violence across settings as well as at the highest level of aggressive behavior in comparison to the two other groups. Males were uniformly at greater risk than were females for all forms of exposure to violence as well as more aggressive."
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