Many parents of my age remember striving to be able to send their children to summer camp. Now, as grandparents, we see our own children doing the same. I believed then, as I do now, that summer camp is a time when children make new friendships—many of which last into their adult years—grow emotionally and learn what we call “people skills.”
Somewhere in the boxes that accumulated over the years in our basement are videotapes of our five children at summer camp. We see our kids in various activities—playing baseball and basketball, jumping into the pool, holding the rabbits in the “nature shack,” and, the mother of all activities, “color war.”
Color war is a good kind of war; it’s bloodless, unless you bang your nose during a hotly contested rebound under a basketball hoop, and perhaps the most fun part of it is watching your child sing his or her heart out in the song competition. In the end, one team won, the other lost, and the war came to an end. You hope your child comes away with the lesson that competition requires teamwork, and that, in turn, builds character.
Videos have now emerged of children at summer camp practicing for war of a different sort. For instance, from Turkey there’s a video that has gone viral of a teacher prompting a group of young girls in a camp setting by shouting the word yahudiye—Turkish for “to the Jew,” which results in the children responding by raising their fists and shouting “death.”
The video is seemingly so disturbing within Turkey that a member of its parliament has demanded an explanation from the government as to how this could have happened.
Perhaps more chilling than the Turkish episode are the video scenes coming out of Gaza’s summer camps. No basketball contests or visits to the nature shack. No, instead we are treated to young boys going through military training, running obstacle courses and crawling under barbed wire with what appears to be live fire overhead. We are also shown images of these “campers” field-stripping rifles while blindfolded. This is done in all armies to simulate nighttime fighting conditions.
Perhaps we should be numb to this by now as we’ve been watching, thanks to the folks at MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch, two decades’ worth of children’s shows on official Palestinian Authority television of children pledging to seek martyrdom when they are older as they “liberate” Palestine.
But we’re not numb, and the images coming out of Gaza are too disturbing to be cast aside as nothing more than daily Palestinian efforts to undermine Israel.
What are we to make of all this?
First, let’s call this phenomenon of young children and teens being used for the purpose of instilling them with Jew-hatred and preparing them for death in war what it is: child abuse.
If you look up the definition of child abuse, you’ll see a thread running through the term as defined the United Nations, the United States and children’s aid organizations around the world. But they all boil down to this as succinctly stated by ChildHelp on its website:
“Child abuse is when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child maltreatment, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation and emotional abuse.”
Second, nothing good is going to come from this. Is Hamas planning to turn these teens into a child army as we’ve seen in Africa with gruesome results? Is Hamas planning to destroy a whole generation of young men in the way that Iran did during the eight years long Iran-Iraq war, when 95,000 Iranian child soldiers were made casualties, mostly between the ages of 16 and 17, and many younger than that?
I don’t have the answers to those questions, and I’d also like to know the answer to the question I have been asking for almost 25 years:
Where are the Palestinian parents who love their children and want to keep them out of harm’s way?
Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror,” available at Devon Square Press.