Political differences aside, few will disagree that Palestinian children are innocent victims of the on-going hostilities in Gaza. Israel’s air strikes, aimed to defend its citizens from Hamas’ terrorization, resulted in civilian casualties, which included child victims. Yet, none other than Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, are responsible for the general humanitarian crisis there and for scores of killed, wounded, and traumatized children.
Civilian fatalities are inevitable in any war, and thus far there are 230 in Gaza, despite a painstaking—and largely successful–effort of the Israelis to minimize collateral casualties. There is sufficient documentary evidence to show that Israeli pilots have cancelled scheduled air strikes after having spotted children and other innocents close to sites designated for destruction.[i] On the other hand, since the outbreak of the war, the Hamas government repeatedly ordered citizens to ignore Israel’s warnings to evacuate before the strikes: residents were to remain inside their houses and not to “collaborate with the enemy.”[ii] Hamas punishment for collaborators has always been death,[iii] and many Gazans might have chosen to take a chance with their lives and those of their families rather than to defy terrorists in power.
Palestinians are the prime victims of their oppressive, brutal, criminal, semi-totalitarian administration. They are as afraid of their Hamas leaders as Russians were terrified of the Bolsheviks in their day. To expect to hear a sincere opinion of a Gaza citizen about any current political issue is like waiting for a terrorized captive of Stalin’s regime to express his independent view on Soviet foreign policy. The Israeli soldiers understand that they are forced to fight Hamas among the population which is “held hostage.”[iv]
The analogy holds, except for one central point: whereas the Bolsheviks in 1917 usurped power by force, Hamas won a significant majority in the 2006 elections in the Palestinian Parliament, and since 2007 maintained unilateral control of Gaza. A closer resemblance may therefore be to the Nazis, who had taken over German politics in 1933 as a result of the democratically-held parliamentary elections. Like the Germans, the Palestinians elected their Hamas leaders by a popular vote. Like the Germans in the 1930s and 1940s, they bare responsibility for their government’s aggression and brutality. And, like the Germans at the end of WWII, they suffer—and suffer indeed!–the consequences of the failed democratic process and its abuse by the extremists. “We are not leading our people to execution,” declared the Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri on Al-Aqsa TV on July 14, 2014, “We are leading them to death… I mean, to confrontation,” he corrected his slip of the tongue.[v] To say that to be led to death the adult Gazans chose is not to blame the victim; tragically, they made this choice also for their children.
Would it be a stretch of the comparison to say that Palestinian children today are like the 12-year-old members of the Hitlerjugend, whom in 1945 the Nazis equipped with hand grenades to blow up Soviet tanks? Time and again Hamas employs minors for suicide acts and other form of terrorist activity, sometimes giving them money or promising to pay their families.[vi] The Hamas uses Gaza schools and kindergartens as missile storages and launching sites; child facilities, as well as hospitals and mosques, protect Hamas fighters from the Israeli fire.[vii] A vivid fifteen-second video depicts the terrorists forcing small boys to serve adults as shields against the Israeli snipers.[viii] Even some Arab sources reveal that the Islamists use “human shields and hide behind them, without mercy for their children . . . in order to tell the public opinion that the Jews intended to kill them.”[ix]
An entire communication network exists in the Hamas-controlled Gaza for the purpose of producing “tragic news events.” Raw footage produces “Pallywood”–media manufacturing of bloody incidents, testifying of Israel’s intentional targeting of civilians and other “crimes against humanity.”[x] The Zionist agents are accused of spreading food that contains cancer-causing ingredients and of deliberately poisoning air and water. The Israelis are blamed for selling sports shoes that “cause the wearer to become paralyzed” and perfumes that lead to drug addiction, as well as of distributing AIDS, “sexually stimulating drops and chewing gum,” so as to “weaken and destroy” Palestinian youth.
Film clips of official TV have been fabricated to show the alleged victims of depleted uranium and nerve gas attacks quivering by convulsions and vomiting. Israelis are said to have performed Nazi-like experiments on Palestinian prisoners: “Many of the male and female inmates received injections from needles . . . which caused their hair and facial hair to fall out permanently. . . others lost their sanity, or their mental condition is constantly deteriorating. . . and some are suffering from infertility.” Reenacted for the cameras are also scenes of rape by Israeli soldiers.[xi] “We don’t encourage our children to hate the Jews. We just tell them . . . that the Jews killed their families, and they reach the conclusion to hate the Jews on their own,” explains an unsuccessful suicide terrorist, who, although imprisoned, dreams of having children some day—to bring them up as Shahids.[xii]
“What is your most lofty aspiration?” six-year-olds in Hamas attire are asked during a kindergarten graduation ceremony; they are trained to scream in unison: “Death for the sake of Allah!”[xiii] Some kindergarteners are primed enough to envisage their future in detail: “When I will grow up, I want to blow myself up with the Zionists and to kill them in a suicide act on a bus.” [xiv] Preachers tell the youngsters that those who die as martyrs feel no pain and receive rewards in the afterlife; even when a Shahid “turns into torn organs that spread all over, in order to meet Allah, Muhammad, and his friends, it would not be a loss.”[xv]
Privately, Palestinians admit: “We live in a culture of death;”[xvi] indeed, “for the Palestinian people death has become an industry,” boast its official engineers,[xvii] whose special focus is on the very young. Official Hamas eulogies, television broadcasts, naming athletic tournaments after suicide terrorists, monument inaugurations, writing essays and poems in class, as well as religious sermons, have the common denominator of depicting the suicide mission as an act of ultimate virtue.
“We’re happy that our school is named after a very well-known Martyr,” who died when a bomb she was preparing to be detonated in a building in Tel Aviv exploded in her hands, students in the Shadia Abu Ghazaleh High School for Girls explain: “She was a model of the wonderful female Palestinian fighter. We follow her path in this school . . . With her blood she delineated a path for all of Palestine’s women.”[xviii] Instruction in terrorism is a segment of a regular military summer camp curriculum, in which professional combatants coach boys and girls and indoctrinate them in hatred and murder.[xix]
Posters in kindergartens scream: “The children are holy martyrs of tomorrow.”[xx] Hamas-run TV produces and broadcasts programs similar to that about Farfur, a Mickey Mouse look-alike, who is beaten to death by an Israeli and becomes a Shahid, joining other glorious martyrs.[xxi] Assaud the Rabbit takes his place on the Al-Aqsa TV in Gaza and promises children to “eat the Jews.” [xxii] In July 2009 the Hamas TV children’s program “Tomorrow Pioneers” aired a special broadcast in which the children of Reem Riyashi were invited to the studio to watch and comment on a video re-enactment of their mother’s 2004 suicide bombing.[xxiii]
“We have the right to congratulate the Shahids’ families, not to extend condolences and sorrow . . . . “Shame and remorse on whoever refrained from raising his children on Jihad;” [xxiv] this is the official party-line in Gaza. It is highly doubtful that the majority of parents are so brainwashed as to rejoice about their children’s death. Some are openly infuriated that the Jihadist recruiters exploited their children. [xxv] The bereaved father of a young suicide bomber complained in a newspaper interview that ideologists of terror never dispatch their own sons and daughters to death: “Who gave them religious justification to send our children to blow themselves up?” he cried and called the terrorist leaders “snakes.”[xxvi]
However passionately some express in public the officially-required ecstasy on their son’s “wedding day” (euphemism for death mission) privately they mourn the loss and try to keep their other teenagers from engagement in violence.[xxvii] Still, “over time a cult of martyrdom that generated posters, videos, songs, and societal glorification grew up in Palestinian society,” in which children play with toy and real weapons[xxviii] — a sociocultural context of obligatory veneration of suicide terrorism. “I always longed to be the mother of a Shahid,” declared in an interview Umm Nidal Farhat, a Palestinian woman who had lost two sons to Jihad; “As far as I am concerned, let all my sons be Shahids,” she said; it “is the best thing in this world.” [xxix]
Within the “culture of martyrdom,”[xxx] which Hamas has been constructing, polls show that between 72 and 80 per cent of Palestinian children yearn to die as martyrs; independent psychology research confirms these numbers.[xxxi] “We don’t want this world,” affirms Yussra, an 11-year-old victim of indoctrination-in-death: “We benefit not from this life, but from the Afterlife. . . . Every Palestinian child . . . says, O Lord, I would like to become a shahid.”[xxxii]
“Let’s play the Shahid Game!” Nada, a 7-year-old girl, says to her friends. The children bring an old sheet, spread it on the ground, and then begin to argue who will be the Shahid. Six-year old Fa’iz says: “You were the Shahid yesterday, today it’s my turn! . . . I will be the one to die!”[xxxiii]
Thousands of images inundate the world’s printed media and the Internet to illustrate the devastating results of every Israeli operation in Gaza. It is difficult to find a photograph in which small children would not be the visual centerpiece—striking millions of viewers right in their hearts. When children’s task is to illicit sympathy, they are persecuted, covered with dust and blood, scared, agonizing, and sad. But why is there no image of the “Palestinian resistance” without 14-year-olds throwing stones; or 12-year-olds hanging out among the heavily-armed Hamas fighters; or 10-year-olds watching the Israeli soldiers carry out their mission? Is this a case of terrible neglect or parental inability to prevent their children from going to a very dangerous place, where they are likely to get hurt? Are these children being war-initiated and taking part in an on-site Hamas military training? It could be both, or yet another manifestation of a constructed a murderous culture, in which terrorists refashion children into instruments of death.
On July 16, 2014 Al Jazeera website published an article, “Gaza Child: Three Wars Old.”[xxxiv] Gazan children above the age of six already witnessed three wars with Israel, and they are the lucky survivors, explains the writer, Yasmeen El Khoudary. Along from the Israeli offensive, she outlines a list of circumstances allegedly responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza: “a seemingly everlasting siege,” dire political and economic situation, new Egyptian regime’s complicity, Arab negativity, and “the Palestinian Authority’s total detachment and pathetic stance against Israel.”
There is a gaping fallacy in this inventory of fault-finding: it is Hamas which is the prime user of “collective punishment” in Gaza; it is Hamas, which abuses and exploits its own people for the sake of maintaining power; like any and all other dictatorial regimes, it is the real cause of suffering of its people. Truly innocent sacrifices among the Hamas victims are Palestinian children.