One would think that in 2020, the majority of people would agree that there is something special about the innocence of children that needs to be protected and preserved for as long as possible. Some helicopter moms and dads take that idea to the next level by not allowing them to do anything in fear of them getting hurt, and then there are others who are the polar opposite—those who strongly encourage their children or relatives to put themselves in danger. To do this, some even hand them guns, knives, strap bombs on them and sell them as human shields.
In 1989, the United Nations adopted and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets out to protect children all over the world from their rights being abused. Part of those rights are that children are prohibited from entering war zones until they are 15 years old; that the government is responsible for teaching children and their parents that children have these rights; and that the media should not teach children subject matter that will cause harm to their well-being.
We have the laws, as well as the ideas, to protect children from these abuses. How, then, are many Palestinian children allowed to be forged into soldiers from infancy through the songs they sing, the TV shows they watch and the summer camps they go to? One such popular song includes the catchy lyrics, “ … with the bleeding body cause death, death, death. The soldiers of Muhammed have started to return. Be red death.”
In the United States, children watch shows like “Sesame Street,” which teaches kids how to count, how to eat healthy, how to share and how to be a good friend, among other age-appropriate topics. Longtime TV-show host Phil Donahue, who was once a guest on “Sesame Street,” said “This is Sesame Street. A place where people, birds, monsters all live in perfect harmony.”
Comparatively, children’s television shows run by Hamas in the Gaza Strip preach hatred and violence, and glorify death. One of the shows featured the grandchildren of Umm Nida, a woman who celebrated her three sons becoming suicide bombers. Her grandchildren went on air to sing “Jihad bestows pride and glory upon you when you become a martyrdom.” One of them also said to the young viewers, “We should sacrifice our lives.”
In another instance of indoctrination, the children of a suicide bomber were shown a music video of the re-enactment of their mother’s suicide. The lyrics of the song said, “Mommy what are you carrying in your arms instead of me? Is it a toy or a present … Instead of me you carried a bomb in your hands. Only now I know what was more precious than us.” After the mother kills herself—and her daughter finds out on the television—the little girl (less than 5 years old) goes to the drawer where her mother’s bombs are, and the song concludes with, “I am following in my mother’s footsteps.”
There are also more than 10,000 Palestinian children being recruited each year by Hamas to join the genocidal organization, recognized as a terrorist group by the FBI, and many other organizations in and outside of the United States. In their terror training camps, the children are taught “military training, shooting practice, hand-to-hand combat and religious studies.” Teachers tell young children to chant, “We shall sacrifice our souls and our blood for you, Al-Aqsa!” Instead of art decorations on the walls of these camps are framed photos of suicide bombers. In a clip from the summer camp Vanguards of Liberation, the Hamas religious leaders say, “These youth tour this place and look around, looking at the great leaders, who sacrificed their souls as martyrs in Jihad for the sake of Allah, leaders who will be their role models.”
Children’s brains are not developed enough to understand the concept of danger, which is why parents often need to explain the severity of certain situations to their child. Their trusting nature is being taken advantage of to be manipulated for the sake of extreme ideologies, putting them in harm’s way, without them even realizing the depth of the situation. These children are being indoctrinated to believe that their physical well-being—their life—is not important. They are told that their worth is equal to how much death they can cause.
Feb. 12 was the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers. The abuse has been noted; an international campaign fighting for the rights of these Palestinian children just finished up, running from Feb. 18-24. We all have rights, whether we know it or not.
Tzvia Waronker is a CAMERA Fellow and freshman at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.