newsIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

How social media boosts terrorists’ recruitment of minors

“TikTok recruits” are the latest trend in Palestinian terror groups’ targeting of teenagers.

Palestinians, many of them armed, attend a funeral of 16-year-old Muntasir al-Shawa, who was killed during clashes with Israeli security forces in the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank city of Nablus, Feb. 21, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Palestinians, many of them armed, attend a funeral of 16-year-old Muntasir al-Shawa, who was killed during clashes with Israeli security forces in the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank city of Nablus, Feb. 21, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.

Social-media networks are being exploited by Palestinian terror factions to boost the recruitment of minors, an Israeli military source has told JNS.

The source noted that although the trend of recruiting minors is not new, its current form and scope are both relatively new phenomena.

In 2004 during the Second Intifada, 16-year-old Hussam Abdo, who was stopped at a Huwara military checkpoint wearing a suicide-bomb belt, made headlines across the globe.

Since then, however, the smartphone revolution and the arrival of social media networks have created many new recruitment opportunities.

The military source said that while in the past, incitement in Palestinian education and informal educational systems was the main vehicle for terror recruitment, today, the device in every minor’s possession is a potential recruitment tool.

In 2019, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement calling on Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others to cease targeting Palestinian minors for recruitment. Needless to say, his call fell on deaf ears.

Terror organizations continue to go after Palestinian children and teens of all ages, though they especially target teenagers.

The Israel Defense Forces has monitored efforts by the local Lions’ Den terror group, based in Nablus, to target for recruitment of youths with no previous organizational affiliation by exposing them to incitement to violence.

The group has skillfully used platforms like TikTok to encourage youths to arm themselves and join the group.

“Social-media networks are used for two goals. One is for recruitment—minors are told to meet terror operatives, to join such and such activity—and the second is for incitement. Jews and Israelis are described as evil Zionist occupiers and youths are encouraged to turn to violence,” said the source.

While established terror organizations like Hamas and PIJ use social-media networks to advance their narratives via longer videos, it is the localized factions in Samaria that are most adept at producing the short TikTok videos that speak to the youngest generation, according to the source.

Meanwhile, in Palestinian Authority-run schools, which are partially funded by countries such as the United States and Germany, children take part in plays that simulate the kidnapping of IDF soldiers or the killing of Israeli civilians.

Schoolbooks describe demonic “Zionist enemies” to impressionable young children, and yet another generation grows up lacking any cognitive educational foundation for peaceful conflict resolution.

Twenty-four Palestinian schools in Judea and Samaria are named after terrorists, including Abu Daoud, the Black September mastermind behind the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes taking part in the Olympics. 

With the Palestinian Authority paying salaries to imprisoned terrorists and compensating the families of “martyrs,” the messaging to Palestinian youths is clear.

In P.A.-run mosques, meanwhile, imams also incite violence, meaning that Palestinian youths are being saturated with such messages from multiple directions.

According to IDF assessments, some 90 percent of Palestinian minors injured or killed during clashes with the IDF were combatants, the source said.

“This means they were either armed or were hurling firebombs and rocks from close range, endangering the forces.”

Rock-throwing is considered a gray area by the IDF, with factors such as range determining whether it poses a risk to life. While some soldiers are equipped with non-lethal riot dispersal tools, not all are, and those who have such equipment are not present at every incident.

In incidents that involve the deaths of Palestinian minors or non-combatants of all ages, the IDF may launch internal investigations, and military sources stressed that every effort is made to avoid such outcomes.

“The other side, however, wants to present as many non-adult casualties as it can, and to leverage this in the international arena,” said the source. “And we see that this is working, in a terrible way.”

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