Enrollment site for “Pioneers of Liberation – Sword of Jerusalem” camps, according to Memri, June 17, 2021| Photo: Reproduction / Memri
Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip, continues to recruit children and teenagers to summer camps where combat training is offered, the organizations say.
These camps, most coordinated by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, offer “military training, such as knives and firearms practices (occasionally with live ammunition); physical combat; marches, obstacle courses, and combat in tunnels,” reports the Middle East Media Research Institute (Memri).
According to Memri, these trainings have been taking place for a decade. This year’s camps began this week, says the institute, which over the years has published reports and videos documenting activities there.
“They begin to be indoctrinated with an ideology of Islamic resistance and the history of conflict through their narrative,” says André Lajst, political scientist and executive director of the NGO StandWithUs Brasil, an international education organization about Israel. He explains that local children’s vision of a Hamas fighter is that of a national hero, just as firefighters are seen in many regions.
The training is offered free of charge to children and teenagers, and occasionally a benefit may also be offered to the family. As there are not many options for young people in Gaza, training becomes part of the routine of many of them, explains Lajst. “After a while, they start doing specific Hamas work. A lot of children go to work at the age of 13 or 14 in tunnels, eventually in missile construction projects. This makes them become terrorists when they are still children [de acordo com classificação da ONU]”, he says. Those who are more apt would then move on to combat training.
These trainings began to be developed mainly after Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip in 2007, says the political scientist. “Before, there was a lot of indoctrination, but when they consolidate power in the Gaza Strip, it starts to be much better known, because Hamas changes its format a little. From a resistance group, they transform into a government and start to create paramilitary units,” he says.
Recruitment for this year took place between June 14 and 18, according to Memri. This year’s camp is called the “Sword of Jerusalem”, which is the name given by Hamas to recent conflicts with Israel. The aim of the camps, according to the Telegram group of the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, is to “spark the flames of jihad among the liberation generation, instill Islamic values and prepare the long-awaited army for the liberation of Palestine”, according to reported Memri.
In addition to the lack of opportunities for young people in Gaza, many of them end up being attracted by their vision of Hamas fighters. “In this region of the Middle East, exerting force ends up gaining moral prestige,” explains Lajst. “They are seen as the all-powerful ones facing the biggest armies in the region and one of the biggest in the world.”