Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Not Child's Play: The role of teens in recent Palestinian unrest

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Over the past few years some in the media, most notably the Australian's Middle East correspondent John Lyons, have waged a high profile campaign accusing Israel of arresting, intimidating, harassing, and imprisoning hundreds of innocent Palestinian children each year, presumably for non-existent or minor crimes.

Yet, a series of reports, looking at violent protests in Jerusalem over the past few months is offering clear evidence they are primarily the handiwork of hundreds of teens, some as young as 12, from five or six Palestinian neighbourhoods. Moreover, this clearly shows a well-organised campaign of Palestinian minors being recruited, incited or serving in the front lines of conflict with Israel.

Quoting Israeli military and police experts, William Booth and Ruth Eglash from the Washington Post reported (Nov. 15):

More than 1,000 Palestinians have been detained in East Jerusalem riots since the end of the Gaza war in August, almost all of them youths, according to Israeli police."

Of the more than 300 who have been charged with throwing rocks, fireworks or gasoline bottles at police, 188, or more than 60 percent, are under age 18.

Most of the protests, they write, "occur between 7:30 and 9 a.m. and between 4 and 6 p.m, the hours when high school students are on their way to and from school".

Hence why some in Israel are calling it a "Children's Intifada," although Israeli police Inspector General Yohanan Danino says the unrest is not yet considered an intifada.
(By way of contrast the deadly hit and run attacks on light rail stops in Jerusalem are considered acts of "lone terrorists").

Efforts by Israeli police to reduce the participation rates involve informing parents of the potential consequences, including warning that offenders will receive criminal records which could affect their chances of entering college and securing jobs.
Parallel to these tactics, Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barkat has also met "with high school principals in East Jerusalem, seeking calm" and "proposed spending more money to extend the school hours as an antidote to protests."

The article paints a picture of protests that are not primarily organised at the behest of communal leaders:

"These kids don't listen to anybody, not to their parents, politicians, and not to me, nobody," said Issa Salem Issa, Shuafat's elderly mukhtar, a recognized authority figure in Palestinian society.

According to the reporters:

many of the young people who throw rocks said in interviews that they think [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas is an old fool. They don't think much of his political party, Fatah, and even less of Hamas.

But clearly the Palestinian Authority's ratcheting up of incitement against Israel, specifically fanning non-existent conspiracies to the al-Aqsa mosque (as discussed by Jamie Hyams a few weeks ago), has filtered down:

Asked why they are clashing with Israelis, the teens shout that they are defending al-Aqsa mosque, the scene of frequent clashes, driven by Jewish activists who want to pray on the raised esplanade known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Muslims decry any change in their rights at the sanctuary.

Demonstrating the insidious and crude message underpinning the incitement are two recent cartoons from early November that ran in al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority.
Run over consecutive days, the cartoons link ‘protecting' the Dome of the Rock with slingshots as the method of doing so. As Palestinian Media Watch explains:

One cartoon showed a father and son before an Israeli Police barrier at the entrance to the Dome of the Rock. The father hands his son a slingshot and the text instructs:
"Purification before prayer is performed with stones."
The other cartoon showed a man standing on top of the Dome of the Rock shooting with a slingshot while giving blood to the Dome.

Palestinian Media Watch has repeatedly documented the pivotal role played by Palestinian media, especially on TV programs for children, in indoctrinating Palestinian youth with hatred for Israel and Jewish people.

A recent piece looking at the propaganda campaign directed at children to encourage violence comes from veteran Jerusalem Post Palestinian affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh, who writes:

Hamas and Fatah had long discovered that children are one of the most effective tools in the fight against Israel -- especially because of the damage Israel sustains in the court of international public opinion.

Unsurprisingly, the knee jerk reaction by so-called human rights groups and organisations which are quick to demand inquiries and UN Security Council condemnations when Israel is accused, is missing where abuses in Palestinian society is concerned, Abu Toameh writes:

The exploitation of children in the fight against Israel has attracted little attention from the international community and media. Human rights groups and United Nations institutions have chosen to turn a blind eye to these human rights abuses.
Instead of condemning those who exploit the children and dispatch them to confront policemen and soldiers, these groups and institutions are busy denouncing Israel for targeting minors.

In fact it can almost be described as the equivalent of the ‘perfect crime':

This strategy works out well for Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Fatah. At the end of the day, they can always blame Israel for "deliberately" targeting Palestinian children and women -- an allegation that the mainstream media in the West often endorses without asking questions.
Moreover, the Palestinian groups know that the children who are being sent to confront Israeli soldiers and policemen will not be held accountable.
Most of the minors detained by the Jerusalem Police for their involvement in the violence are released to house arrest. In cases where the children are aged nine to 13, they are referred to social welfare authorities without being detained.

Abu Toameh is insistent that these youths are the "victims of a campaign of indoctrination and incitement" by Hamas and Fatah.

The message to become actively involved in the ongoing war against Israel is disseminated in the "media, mosques, educational institutions and the fiery rhetoric of leaders and activists," while normalising the behaviour occurs in Palestinian society through "dressing children in military uniforms and allowing them to carry rifles and pistols during rallies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."

With many of the participants coming from poor homes, Fatah and Hamas exploit this vulnerability by providing families with financial rewards to encourage their children to risk their lives by throwing stones and Molotov cocktails in violent demonstrations:

Palestinian groups often reward the families of the children by hiring lawyers and paying fines imposed on them by Israeli courts. As a result, the families are less motivated to stop their children from risking their lives.
There are also reports that Fatah and Hamas activists in Jerusalem have been paying children small sums of money to throw stones and firebombs at Israelis and block roads in several Arab neighborhoods.

The cynical use of children to fight Israel was also at play in the recent conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

An analysis in September by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre studied one-third of the names of Palestinians killed in the conflict revealing "several instances of children and teenagers serving as military operatives in the terrorist organizations":

The examination also revealed instances in which the ages of Palestinian casualties were falsified by Gaza's Hamas- controlled ministry of health. For example, boys aged 15 and 17 were integrated into the terrorist operative networks; the age of a nine year-old terrorist auxiliary was listed as 24; and a terrorist operative in his twenties was listed as 13 years of age.

One example listed was that of nine-year-old Obeida Fadhel Muhammad Abu Hweishel who was killed in an Israeli Defence Forces attack whilst assisting his uncle who was a commander of Hamas' rocket network in the Nuseirat refugee camp. Hamas-controlled health ministry officials claimed the boy was 24.

According to the analysis, "listing his age as 24 was not an innocent technical error but rather a deliberate falsification whose objective was to conceal the fact that a child was exploited for terrorist activities."

But, in the case of Ibrahim Jamal Kamal Nasr, who was a terrorist with Fatah's Abu al-Rish Martyrs Brigades, the reverse applied. Although he was in his twenties, Palestinian ministry of health listed him as a 13-year-old boy, thereby serving to add another civilian child to the list that is used to condemn Israel internationally.

The report also highlighted the process of normalising terrorism as a rite of passage:

The Facebook page of the al-Batash family, whose members were killed during Operation Protective Edge, posted pictures of two of its children with guns and an RPG launcher. The picture was entitled "Young jihad fighters." In ITIC assessment the picture did not necessarily indicate the involvement of children in supporting terrorist activity. Palestinian children are often photographed holding weapons to send the message that the younger generation will continue the armed campaign against Israel.

Another avenue for incitement is the insidious summer camps held by both Fatah and Hamas where Palestinian youths are given paramilitary training (see my blog post from 2012 here).

Regrettably, the highly lucrative industry of activist journalists and NGOs who work overtime to ‘report' what invariably turn out to be exaggerated or unverifiable charges of alleged Israeli mistreatment of Palestinian youths is also characterised by near silence on the actual abuse of Palestinian youth who are cynically used as propaganda weapons in the ongoing war against Israel.

- Allon Lee

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