Hamas is running a military training programme for teenagers as young as 15, it emerged this week.
Some 5,000 boys are getting familiar with Kalashnikov rifles and other weapons during weekly school lessons, and many of them attend camps where they learn to handle guns and explosives. They are aged 15 to 17.
Palestinian human rights activists have expressed concern. Al Mezan, a Gaza-based group, has condemned the programme. Bassem Eid, founder and director of the East Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, said: “Palestinian society should be very concerned and very worried by this.”
He said that, by propagating a culture of violence, Hamas harms Palestinian prospects. “In the future, such camps will harass the Palestinian interest, which is to find peace,” he predicted.
Mr Eid added that there were widespread hopes among Palestinians when Hamas won elections in 2006 that the terror group would become less military and come to represent civilian interests. Instead, it has worked “to militarise the Gaza Strip”.
Paul Hirschson, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, alleged that Hamas’s programme constitutes “child abuse”. He commented: “They should be put in jail for abusing their own children.”
Mr Hirschson said: “It’s actually sad that anybody would be investing effort in education of this nature instead of teaching science, mathematics and English… They are breeding terrorists who are going to kill me and my children unless we protect ourselves.” News of the programme was met with fury in the Knesset. “It is because of incidents like these that true peace with the Palestinians will take many years to achieve,” said Deputy Defence Minister and Likud MK Danny Danon.
“As long as their schoolchildren are taught to maim and kill instead of read and write then we will have no choice but to do all that is necessary to defend ourselves.”
Among organisations that monitor Palestinian “incitement,” there was little surprise. “Once you’ve convinced the children that killing is justified, training them is just the logical next step,” said Itamar Marcus, founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch, a non-profit organisation that monitors the Palestinian media and educational system.
Mr Marcus’s archive includes clips from Hamas-run children’s television, which encourage and idealise violence against Jews and Westerners. One item shows a baby-faced puppet stabbing a puppet of George W Bush to death.
Discussing incitement, he said: “Even if just a small percentage of children who see it act on it, the message they receive could result in the killing of hundreds or thousands of Israelis.”