During a meeting in the UN Security Council (April 26), US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, was emotional when she was talking about Palestinian children. “Anyone who truly cares about children in Gaza should insist that Hamas immediately stop using children as cannon fodder in its conflict with Israel,” Haley said. “This is an issue that transcends the usual debates in this chamber. It is quite simply an issue of decency. Humanity itself loses when the barbaric practice of human shields is tolerated and unanswered.”
Haley was referring to the children sent during the latest round of Hamas-instigated violence in Gaza – the so called “March of Return” – to throw stones, burn tyres, fly kites with Molotov cocktails and even try to break into Israeli territory. Using children in this way is by every standard nothing less than a war crime.
The Palestinian view of children as fair game, a legitimate tool to be used for terror – and a legitimate target if they are Israelis – is notoriously well known. The examples are numerous and horrendous. During direct conflicts with Israel in 2009 (“Pillar of Defense”) and 2014 (“Protective Edge”), Hamas terrorists forced women and children to gather around in locations Israel had warned it would strike in Gaza. Indoctrinating Palestinian children to violence and death starts at very early ages. Specialised kindergarten graduation ceremonies (including in the past month), paramilitary summer camps and TV children’s programs all preaching hate and teaching how to kill Jews and become martyrs.
Palestinian Media Watch, an NGO dedicated to monitoring incitement in Palestinian media, schools and society generally, has documented many similar examples.
Dozens of Palestinian children and youth have either died in, or been caught just before committing terror attacks, including suicide bombings that required extensive coordination with adult handlers.
Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a top Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, documented the cynical exploitation of Palestinian minors in violent riots in his memoir, Son of Hamas. Yousef described how his father absolved himself of responsibility for such activities, claiming that his children took part in violence of their own volition, ignoring the fact that they had been indoctrinated in jihadist ideology in their own home. Moab wrote:
“Palestinians no longer blamed Yasser Arafat or Hamas for their troubles. Now they blamed Israel for killing their children. But I still couldn’t escape a fundamental question: Why were those children out there in the first place? Where were the parents? Why didn’t their mothers and fathers keep them inside? Those children should have been sitting at their desks in school, not running in the streets, throwing stones at armed soldiers.
“Why do you have to send children to die?” I asked my father after one particularly horrific day.
“We don’t send children,” he said. “They want to go. Look at your brothers.”
A chill went down my spine.
“If I hear that one of my brothers goes out there and throws stones, I’m going to break his arm,” I said. “I would rather that he suffer a broken arm than get killed.”
“Really? You might be interested to know that they were throwing stones yesterday.” He said it so casually; I couldn’t believe this was simply a way of life for us now.”
Meet Janna Jihad
But there is another alley way for this cynical and cold abuse of children, allegedly softer, yet just as repulsive. It’s the Palestinian industry which turns small children into public relation heroes, media stars as the young and vibrant face of the ‘resistance’. Janna Tamimi, aka Janna Jihad, is the latest product of this industry.
She was merely seven years old when Jenna started ‘reporting’ from her home town Nabi Saleh. Since then, at an age where she should concentrate on her schooling and friends, Jenna regularly participates in riots in her village. The aim is to get the next story in line with her anti-Israeli narrative, taught from the cradle by her family. The title “The world’s youngest journalist”, credited to her by the cable network Al-Jazeera, is a distortion of her work, which can only be described as a form of incitement and propaganda.
Armed with her camera, through her social media presence (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube), Janna Tamimi is engaged in what she believes is part and parcel of a third uprising (Intifada). That is, starting a provocation and then broadcasting Palestinian propaganda in polished English. It has nothing to do with journalistic values or commitment to delivering a balanced story to the public. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan routinely jails genuine journalists in his own country, he has singled out Janna for commendation – something that says volumes about the kind of “journalism” Janna produces.
This young girl is part of the notorious Tamimi clan who have made an art out of blurring the lines between non-violent and violent activities against Israel, and capitalised on it through extensive dissemination of eye-catching propaganda, grooming family members as poster boys and girls for their political aims. She is the niece of Bassem Tamimi, the leading activist of the Tamimi family and famously the father of Ahed Tamimi, now in jail in Israel for incitement and attacking soldiers.
It is clear that Ahed, who has also been involved in highly publicised and apparently pre-planned incidents since she was a pre-teen, is also a victim of the same cynical exploitation.
Bassem Tamimi has gone on record explaining that he sees putting Palestinian children on the front line as a rite of passage into society: “the participation of the children in the daily confrontation and the national resistance is [something] they must do to build their self-image and to give them more abilities to deal with problem they might face.”
Bassem Tamimi practises what he preaches on his own children. While his daughter Ahed was on trial (December 2017), he essentially admitted that she had been used as a pawn to achieve his goals at her expense.
“Ahed is a symbol and a model that cannot be broken, even if it has a price”. Fifteen-year-old Muhammad Tamimi, Ahed’s younger brother, is next in the line, getting ready for his turn by reciting slogans to the camera, as he explains to a television crew: “I behave in this manner, so we can take our homeland back. So that only one people will be here, the Palestinian people. And no Israel, because there is no such thing as Israel.”
And that’s where the story comes full circle. Janna Tamimi is a victim. It is unnatural for a child to put herself in danger unless her immediate adult influence teaches her to do so. Her grooming for Palestinian social media stardom would not have been possible without a clear direction and guidance by parents and family. It would appear that, to her family, Janna’s tender age does not deter them from putting her in front of the camera in this exploitative manner. Rather, her pre-adolescent appearance seems to be her key asset. But taking away her childhood, instead of sheltering Janna Tamimi from the trauma of conflict, is not merely poor parenting. It’s child abuse. She has become another child soldier in a war – a different kind of cannon fodder.
The world turns a blind eye
One cannot consider the cynical exploitation of Palestinian children by the Palestinian nationalist movement without recognising that international NGOs that claim to act on the behalf of the welfare of children often encourage this exploitation by refusing to criticise this practice.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of the NGO Defence of Children International-Palestine, which has been identified by NGO Monitor as having close ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
If Palestinian children’s rights are protected in the same way as children anywhere – as they should be – then the politicisation of the issue must end. Palestinian parental and governmental responsibility for raising and educating children in an environment free from incitement and hate, and their responsibility to supervise children and prevent them from engaging in violent activity, must be addressed with the same vigour as allegations of mistreatment at the hands of Israelis.
AIJAC Staff contributed to this report.