'Can I go to summer camp and learn how to kill Jews, mother?'

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Young Palestinians shout slogans during a military-style exercise at the Liberation Youths summer camp organised by the Hamas movement, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 1, 2015. Hamas stages dozens of military-style summer camps for young Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to prepare them to "confront any possible Israeli attack", organisers said. | REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

GAZA (Christian Examiner) – While American children spent their summer vacations playing video games, going to the movies and attending Vacation Bible School, children in Gaza were attending summer camps on how to kill Jews.

According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), 30,000 Gazan children came for the annual "Pioneers of Liberation" camps hosted by Hamas's military wing, the 'Izz Al-Din Al Qassam Brigades.

Hamas leaders said the goal of the camps "is to stoke the embers of jihad among the generation of liberation, to inculcate Islamic values and to prepare the army of victory for liberating Palestine."

This year, camp organizers operated under the theme of the "Al Quds Intifada" – the Jerusalem uprising. It is the name given to the spate of recent attacks on Israelis and foreigners which have claimed multiple lives, including one American.

MEMRI mined several Hamas-related social media accounts to develop a compelling picture of what goes on during the summer camps, all taught by experience Al Qassam fighters. One was called the "Knife Camp," for the attacks on Israeli civilians in recent months, and another the "Soldiers of Al-Quds." Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

Another camp was named for Baha 'Aliyan, a terrorist who killed three Israelis and wounded nine in an attack on a Jerusalem bus in October 2015.

Each of the camps has a theme or a revolutionary slogan as well, MEMRI reported.

The Hamas newspaper Al-Risalah reported that some of the slogans speak of redeeming the Al-Aqsa mosque atop the disputed Temple Mount "with blood," while another speaks of defending the "holy places." A third camp slogan was, "Free the Prisoners from the Jails."

The camps attract children, boys as well as girls, as young as eight years old. It is, however, those who are age 14 and up who are the prime target for recruitment. One 19-year-old camper told the newspaper the camp created a desire in him to "join the ranks of the resistance in the future" and "participate in liberating Palestine from occupation."

Hamas social media accounts were full of pictures of children receiving instruction in how to kill with knives from behind, how to assemble weapons and recognize rockets by name, and how to dig tunnels. The classes even took a field trip into Hamas-constructed tunnel, created especially for the campers. 

Ibrahim Al-Madhoun, a columnist for Al-Risalah, wrote that the response to the camp offerings was "massive."

Al-Madhoun praised the camps and said they are teaching children "national values" and moving the general population from a "passive stance" to a "proactive one."

"Resistance is spreading from the elites to the general public, in an attempt to create an entire generation of resistance [fighters] that can defend itself," he wrote. "The camps expand the [circle of] popular involvement in the resistance."

"Our Palestinian people are jihad fighters by nature, who rise up and aspire to take part in armed combat. Ever since the Al-Qassam Brigades' quality victory in the Third Gaza War [in July 2014], the public, in and out [of Palestine], has been begging its leadership to [be allowed to] take an active part in the ranks of the resistance. These camps will lay the foundations for building a broad popular army embracing many sectors [of society]," Al-Madhoun wrote.

In 2014, Hamas fired an estimated 3,700 rockets into Israel. After a series of pin-point strikes, Israel was forced to launch a ground invasion of Gaza – Operation Protective Edge – to halt the attacks. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers died in the fighting, while an estimated 750 Hamas militants were killed.

Hamas frequently launched rockets from school yards, hospitals and civilian neighborhoods. The Israeli response left as many as 20,000 homes inhabitable. Between 300,000 and 500,000 Gazans spent the winter in shelters.

Hamas, after being resoundingly defeated, claimed victory.