“Jerusalem is ours, our weapon is our Islam, and our ammunition is our children. And you, O my son, are meant for martyrdom.”
This statement, uttered by a Palestinian mother to her son, was posted on the official Facebook page of Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Unfortunately, the sentiment expressed in this Facebook post is not a rare one. The use of Palestinian children as child soldiers and terrorists has been prevalent in the Levant for decades — and not just by Fatah. Hamas, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other organizations indoctrinate children and regularly send them to their deaths. With more light being shed on the issue recently, it is time for all people of good conscience to stand up and tell these children what their leaders will not: They deserve life.
The practice of using children in warfare and terrorism is immoral and contradicts the norms outlined in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. The U.N. articles ban the use of children in any military capacity — such as combatants, laborers, and support staff. Thankfully, many countries have signed and ratified the convention, thereby committing to the protection of the most vulnerable amongst us. However, this ban means nothing if the international community fails to speak up against violations of this norm, or even address the issue in any serious way.
There are roughly 300,000 estimated child soldiers around the world in over 20 countries. About 40% of the children are girls, sometimes as young as eight years old. While there has been much attention and even some successes in addressing the issue in African countries (though of course, much more is necessary), the issue of Palestinian-Arab child soldiers, specifically, has thus far failed to grasp the world’s attention. Worse, it is sometimes even excused.
For too long, the systemic abuse that Palestinian minors suffer at the hands of their oppressive leaders has gone largely ignored by the international community. Far too many children have been sent to their deaths, either as suicide bombers or while carrying out stabbing attacks. The abuse extends from “traditional” combat roles to every imaginable dangerous auxiliary capacity. Children are used by Gaza-based terror groups as human shields, whether it’s protecting adult terrorists on the front lines of violent riots, or protecting weapon stores and rocket launching silos intentionally placed in proximity to, or even inside, Gaza schools.
Indoctrination in violence frequently begins in the Palestinian-Arab education system. Countless reports of inflammatory material propagated on official Palestinian Authority- or Hamas-run media have been published, yet have received little condemnation internationally. It took until August 2019 for the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to issue its first ever condemnation of incitement and anti-Semitism found in Palestinian Authority textbooks. The textbooks included glorification of terrorists like Dalal Mughrabi, who viciously slaughtered 38 civilians, including 13 children, during the 1978 “Coastal Road massacre.” Even kindergarteners are not off limits from Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another Gaza-based terror group, even runs terrorist summer boot camps for about 10,000 children.
The tragedy of Palestinian child soldiers — or any child soldier, for that matter — does not end once the child takes off the uniform. Those who survive their ordeal often exhibit severe psychological trauma that hinders their ability to adjust to civilian life. The evil people who turn children into tools of war for their own political gain do not merely rob children of their childhoods; they rob them of the joy of living normal lives.
On February 12, 2020, the word commemorates the annual “Red Hand Day,” which is meant to draw attention to child soldiers. There is no better time to shine a light on the plight of Palestinian-Arab children suffering at the hands of their oppressive, corrupt leaders.
Indeed, some have already to take matters into their own hands. A multi-NGO campaign is underway on social media and college campuses to raise awareness about the nightmare that so many Palestinian-Arab children are forced to endure. This campaign encourages citizens to send open letters to their governments and public leaders. Yet this is merely the first step.
We all have a duty to raise awareness and pressure Palestinian-Arab leaders to cease these exploitative practices. Palestinian-Arabs must know that they can have more to life than death and murder — and are worth more than ammunition. Even if no one else will tell them this, we must.