By Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman*
Coming home in August for the first time from summer camp is a rite of passage for teens not only in this country but globally. From the super-rich traversing the Alps to disadvantaged kids given the gift of fresh air and the gift of broadened horizons; from the early pangs of homesickness, lost clothes, summer romances, and enduring friendships to the welcome home—all are part of a universally shared narrative.
There is a dizzying array of specialty camps servicing technology geeks, LeBron James wannabees, weight-loss seekers, as well as youngsters seeking to grow spiritually or intellectually– far removed from prying eyes of parents and pressure of social conformity back home.
But what happens when the people running summer camp teach, preach and train youngsters to embrace a culture of hate and violence? Witness summer camp graduation in Gaza. In closing ceremonies, kids dressed as Hamas fighters who confront others playing Israel border police. Several of the children stand up and declare: “We want to liberate Al-Aqsa,” while one pretends to stab the role playing “Israelis”: The play’s narrator lectures that “one martyr has fallen while carrying out a stabbing operation . . . [killing] one of the Zionist pigs.”
A different kind of color war indeed.
All this happened against the backdrop or real bullets flying from the Temple Mount, killing two Druze police officers and a real knife wielder murdering Israelis celebrating the birth a new baby in their home on a Sabbath evening.
Hamas’ brainwashing of Palestinian children guarantees the ruling terrorist group another generation of young people who will dig and die burrowing tunnels of terror under Israeli communities. Others will serve (sometimes unwittingly) as human shields for rockets targeting Israeli civilians. And others will be handed real knives, guns, and explosives to murder real Jews.
This summer camp in Gaza and others run by the Palestinian Authority named in honor of terrorists, should leave every rational observer to ask: With whom exactly are Israelis supposed to be negotiating a two-state solution? Perhaps the images of these young campers-themselves victims of satanic child abuse were on the mind of President Trump’s son-in-law and peace envoy, Jared Kushner, when he recently voiced the fear that the Palestinian-Israeli dispute may be “insoluble.”
Meanwhile, two continents away, another summer camp was in the news. This time a Jewish one, Camp Solomon Schechter in Olympia, Washington. It was there where the red, white, black and green Palestinian flag was raised to welcome a delegation of Palestinian young people visiting under the aegis of Kids4Peace. This NGO is dedicated to “ending conflict and inspiring hope in Jerusalem and other divided societies around the world.” A noble goal indeed. And there is surely nothing fundamentally wrong with inviting Palestinian teenagers to see how the world looks through the eyes of young Jews.
But Jews raising the Palestinian flag, a political symbol that stands for a longed- after Holy Land cleansed of the more than 6 million Jewish citizens of the Jewish State of Israel? And such a gesture at a time when too many young Palestinians try to butcher their Jewish neighbors?
What Jewish or universal value were the kids at that camp being taught by that flag raising? That they should view the terrorists through the same lens of (im)moral relativism as their victims—our brothers and sisters?
To all those who so desperately want to believe this PC vision, we suggest that they check the real-world perimeters of Israeli communities, schools, and camps, alongside with their Palestinian counterparts.
You will find one fundamental difference. Israeli schools, shopping malls and campsite perimeters will all be surrounded by security. Not so the Palestinians. Why not? They don’t have to, because they know—no matter how great a toll of suffering and death Palestinian terrorists inflict on their neighbors—they cannot get Israel’s people to drop their Jewish values. And they know, Israelis imbued with those values—no matter how bereaved or outraged—won’t indiscriminately seek to kill their Arab neighbors.
Virtually all Israelis pray for the day when Palestinian leaders—in their government buildings, in their mosques, on their TV programs, on social media, and in their summer camps stop preaching a culture of hate and death to their kids. When that day comes—we will see twinned neighborhoods living side by side—sans barriers– in peace.
Right now, the summer camp fantasies of 2017 in Gaza and Washington State prove that vision remains an impossible dream.
*Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Historian Dr. Harold Brackman is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center