Gaza children play war in Palestinian summer camp

As the hot weather arrives in Gaza, teenagers head to the town of Rafah.

Gaza children play war in Palestinian summer camp





RAFAH – As the hot weather arrives in Gaza, teenagers head to the town of Rafah for summer camp – not to play sports but to join war games organized by radical Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.



Youngsters wearing military fatigues and the movement’s black insignia capture a fellow camper posing as an Israeli soldier and drag him away – all part of being trained to “resist” the enemy.



Around 100 children under the age of 16 learn from members of Islamic Jihad’s armed wing Al-Quds Brigades how to strip down an AK-47 assault rifle, crawl through tunnels and run across burning tyres amid the sound of explosions on their assault course.



“When I’m older I want to fight in Al-Quds Brigades and capture Israeli troops,” said 12-year-old Ezz, who was this time playing the role of the unfortunate enemy soldier taken from his position atop a scorching sand dune.



Ezz is a pupil at a school in the Gaza Strip run by the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA. Fellow camper Osama, holding a rifle, explains: “We learn to fight so that we’re ready for our resistance against the Zionist enemy (Israel) who occupies our land and kills us.”



The head military trainer at the camp, Abu Khaled, insists it is like any other “youth camp, (but) includes combat training.”



The Al-Quds Brigades instructor, wearing a balaclava, says he sees the “soldiers of the future” in the children he is training, adding that his eldest son is taking part in the two-week camp.



“We want to instil the notion of kidnapping (Israeli) soldiers so that we never forget our prisoners,” he says, referring to previous prisoner exchange deals between the Jewish state and Palestinian groups.



In one of the most significant such swaps, Gaza rulers Hamas released captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for over a thousand Palestinian detainees in an October 2011 deal.



Abu Mohammed, another instructor, insists “there’s no need for children to actually fight. But we train them to, so they can face danger and the fear of (aerial) bombardment.”



The Hamas movement ruling Gaza, meanwhile, has opened its own summer camps to some 100,000 students, boys and girls, aged 10 to 21.



Although not as overtly military-focused as those of Islamic Jihad, the Hamas camps also include rudimentary combat training.



“They’re focused on creativity and fun as well as religious, moral and national education on the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the prisoners issue,” says Mussa Al-Samak, one organizer.



But Mohammed Al-Shawa, a counselor for activities being organized in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza, says the aim is “fun, education and learning basic martial arts.”



A Gaza psychologist, requesting anonymity, criticized the participation of children in military exercises. — AFP