The seriously deadly fun of Palestinian summer camps

The seriously deadly fun of Palestinian summer camps
The pointy end of Hamas' summer camps

Hamas and its rival Fatah-run Palestinian Authority (PA) have learnt well the old dictum “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man”, with both groups running annual summer camps that prime the next generation of Palestinians to hate Israel and become desensitised to terrorism.

Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) is reporting that the PA on the West Bank has named a summer camp “Sisters of Dalal Mughrabi” in honour of the woman who led a terrorist attack on an Israeli bus in 1978 – 37 Israeli civilians, including 12 children, were murdered. This is still the single most deadly terrorist incident since Israel’s founding.

A sign of the esteem in which Mughrabi is held is evident in the number of events and places named after her and as PMW noted:

The Governor of the Jericho district said to participants in the summer camp that Mughrabi and others who “sacrificed” should be a beacon for us in our activities.

Meanwhile, the Times of Israel is noting that over in the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ annual summer camps are offering 70,000 boys semi-military training involving “walking on nails and on knife blades” and “reliving the experience of prisoners in a mock Israeli jail”.

Ynetnews has a particularly detailed description of the mock prison:

This year, the organizers came up with an original theme – “the suffering of the Palestinian prisoners” – allowing children to experience first hand the daily lives of prisoners held in Israel.

Hytham al- Madhun, one of the camp guides, explained that the mock prison set up for the camp is divided into six rooms, each simulating the incarceration conditions of Palestinian prisoners. The first room is an interrogation cell, which is where prisoners are first led once entering the prison. In this room, Madhun describes to the kids “the prisoners’ firm resilience in the face of Israeli interrogators’ threats and their refusal to admit the charges ascribed to them.”

One of the main heroes of the camp is Ibrahim Hamed, who was the head of Hamas’ military wing in Ramallah and is responsible for murdering dozens of Israelis. The guides boastfully tell the children how Hamed, who was recently sentenced to 54 life sentences, has continually refused to give his interrogators any information, including his given name.

In the next room, the children get to see what a prisoner’s cell looks like, and the guides warn them of Israeli agents who pose as prisoners, trying to get the Palestinian prisoners to talk and admit to their acts. Other rooms include a solitary confinement chamber, a torture den, a room that simulates a prison hospital, and even a small prison courtyard.

Hamas is quite open in its motivations for these harrowing offerings:

Ahmad Rantisi, one of the organizers of the summer camp, said that its goal is to allow children to get a tangible experience of the suffering of Palestinian prisoners, and strengthen their belief in the protection of Palestinian land and the high price that must be paid.

An Associated Press story on the Hamas camps notes that around 50,000 girls also attend but are offered what Hamas considers more gender appropriate activities like cooking and embroidery.

Due to funding shortfalls, Associated Press noted, UNWRA has decided against running its own summer camps that have regularly attracted 250,000 participants in previous years:

U.N. camps offered children two weeks of crafts, swimming, acting and mental health counseling. Some were co-ed, making them targets for Islamic zealots who repeatedly trashed camp sites.

In fact, “burned to the ground by masked assailants” is probably a more apt descriptor, which is what this CNN story notes happened on the final day of an UNWRA camp in July 2011, just hours before boys and girls attempted to set a “Guinness world record for the largest number of people flying kites”. In 2010, two UN summer camps were set on fire.

UNWRA may claim money troubles has forced it to cut the camps but that hasn’t prevented it outlaying for new programs.

Yoaz Hendel reports that UNWRA “recently started to invest large sums of money in monitoring the security fence” on the West Bank “the same fence that on July 9, 2004 was declared illegal by the UN, while suicide bombers were making their way into Israel. So what does a refugee agency have to do with a fence that goes through east Jerusalem and area C, and what does the fence have to do with monitoring Bedouins, water, and agriculture in Judea and Samaria? That’s a good question. UNRWA officials decided this is their job, and with relative ease considering the apparent difficulties faced by the organization came up with the funding for setting up a unit tasked with monitoring the fence and its surroundings.”

UNWRA’s Gaza chief Robert Turner told Associated Press that “of the [US]$225 million that the U.N. requested for emergency Gaza programs this year, it only received [US]$62 million…He said donor fatigue and Europe’s economic crisis were to blame.”

What Turner might have included was a small reference to the pitiful level of donations made by Arab countries – including oil rich Gulf states – to UNWRA, which in 2010 made up only 1.5% of the agency’s annual budget.

– Allon Lee