A recent video of young Gazan children dressed in military gear, pretending to be killed while they stab Israeli soldiers, has been circulating the internet. As the children perform their play of death, a loudspeaker in the background praises their bloodshed and their bravery. The video is reminiscent of images seen of child soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army, whose use of children has led to ICC warrants against its top commanders. The video was broadcast by Hamas and the dramatic reenactment was produced as part of the Palestine Festival for Children and Education, sponsored by UCAS, which is accredited by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education.
Hamas has a vested interest in encouraging violence and hate among Palestinian children, since it is relying on those children to be the future generation of Hamas’s military and terrorist wing. As a matter of fact, one could argue that the plays and similar activities that use the Gazan education system (which is under Hamas’s control) to indoctrinate children into violence constitute a form of recruitment, in violation of the ICC’s Rome Statute, expressly forbids “Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities.”
Whether or not such indoctrination constitutes a violation of international law, it is certainly a form of child abuse. Not only does it damage children psychologically, but by encouraging children to engage in dangerous activities, it could lead to physical harm or even death. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority’s use of the education system in the West Bank also encompasses indoctrination into hate and violence, and the areas governed by the Palestinian Authority and by Hamas lack freedom of speech or press, depriving the children of the opportunity to be exposed to peaceful voices within their society.
If a person truly believes in equality and cares about the Palestinian people, she must speak out when Palestinian rights are violated, regardless of who is responsible. In this case, the responsible actors are Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, who are violating the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which clearly states: “that the education of the child shall be directed to: (a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations….(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance”.
To apply a double-standard and not condemn oppression of Palestinians when that oppression is caused by Palestinian governments is a double-standard reflecting a paternalistic, Orientalist attitude that views Palestinians as unable to uphold the Western world’s moral standards. Perhaps this attitude explains why, when it comes to condemning Palestinian Authority and Hamas human rights violations against Palestinians, the Western world often chooses to remain silent.
We have just finished celebrating Passover, the holiday of freedom, which serves as a reminder of the many groups around the world still yearning to be free – whether it Syrian refugees or people starving in Zimbabwe. In order to fight for Palestinian freedom, we must acknowledge all sources of Palestinian oppression, including Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, so they too can be, in the words of the Haggadah, “free people by next year”.