The frightening phenomenon of Palestinian Child Soldiers
By Rolene Marks

Children are usually the first casualties of conflict. The world is currently commemorating Child Soldiers Week – however it is more a “blink and you miss it” occasion as this frightening phenomenon doesn’t seem to feature high on the list of global priorities and has a fancy coloured ribbon or trendy hashtag attached.  In the Middle East, this is not restricted to victims of conflict but also another phenomenon which is more often than not ignored. Palestinian children, often robbed of their rights to live normal childhoods and dreams and aspirations of future careers, are forced to become child soldiers by terror groups like HamasPalestinian JihadFatah and others who force them into the frontlines. This is a flagrant abuse of their personal and human rights, not to mention their safety.

As  defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states, a “child soldier” is:

“…any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes”.

The definition is not limited to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.

Palestinian children in particular, are extremely vulnerable to being exploited.  Palestinian children grow up on a steady diet of incitement and hatred; indoctrinated into their impressionable young minds from an early age. The Palestinian children learn from an early age, the phrase ” اذبح اليهود”  (“Slaughter the Jews”) in Arabic.  This refers specifically to “Jews” which includes Israelis.  That wording is very deliberate – and also refers to Jews outside of Israel.

The chilling images of cartoonish Mickey Mouse type characters like Farfur the mouse or Nahul the bee on children’s television shows have shown us that abuse of this kind starts young. This indoctrination carries on into the formative school years.

Summer holidays bring with them, an opportunity to go to camp. This is not an opportunity for Palestinian children to learn arts and crafts and sing songs around the campfire. Instead, approximately 10 000 children will be schooled as auxiliaries and militia members and attend grueling basic training boot camps. There, children will learn to march, engage in combat maneuvers, weapon operation, and terrorist tactics, with the intention of carrying out attacks by who they are trained to see as the “enemy”. Their enemy is Israel, Jews and those who identify as Zionists. Their aim is to “wipe out the Zionist entity”. Children are then recruited to the frontline, alongside terror group leaders.

Children from as young as 9 and up to the age of 17 have been pushed into combat, to fight and die alongside the adults. This is not restricted just to engaging in combat – children, as well as the elderly and women are used as human shields and it is not uncommon to hear Hamas and their ilk boasting about the use of their civilians as cannon fodder. While in some cases the youngest of these casualties has been covered up with older, fake ages on casualty lists, Hamas and PIJ have been proud of the teenagers that have been “martyred” in battle. To be “martyred” often means being awarded rock star status with their images on posters around the neighbourhood and streets and other buildings named in their honour.

Exploiting their innocence, terror groups have recruited children to become suicide bombers, stabbers or rock throwers. These children often do not fully understand the consequences of this; and believe that they are fulfilling a noble cause.

​Children used as “suicide stabbers” are a tactic often employed by Fatah. Encouraged by an economy of hate; where terrorists and their families are paid monthly stipends and a steady diet of incitement, there has been a significant increase in children being recruited for this. This has been referred to as “pay for slay” and for the Palestinians to show that they are sincere about peace, this practice needs to end.

In order to stab and viciously murder men, women and children at the age of 17, one has to have been brainwashed for years prior to that.

Terror leaders often encourage children to engage in violent riots.  They are taught by radical organizations to throw stones at passing cars and people. This is not an innocuous act; several Israelis have been killed or severely maimed by this kind of action. The “romantic” image of the rock wielding Palestinian against the perceived Israeli Goliath also has very real consequences. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of stone-throwing incidents occur every year at the behest of Palestinian organizations. Children are systematically used as riot fodder. Seen as great occasions of resistance, schools are closed and children are bused to the front lines to be used as a modern day shield-wall.  This was a regular occurrence during the “March of Return” where thousands of Palestinians would riot at the border fence between Israel and Gaza. The disabled were also bused to the frontline and on several occasions, rioters set donkeys alight. Quite often, children are bribed to rush security fences and try to sabotage them. What did this achieve? Absolutely nothing.

The parents are fully aware and know that their teenage children are in a danger zone and may be severely harmed; but still encourage them; knowing that they may not return home safely.

Children are also used as terror labourers. Terror organisations like Hamas within the Gaza strip have built an underground network of tunnels for the purposes of smuggling weapons and launching attacks on Israeli civilians. These tunnels are usually built with a child labour force, operating in lethal sweatshop conditions. By 2012, over 9 children had been buried alive and killed while digging tunnels and there has been no indication that this practice has stopped.

Using children as combatants in conflict is one of the grossest forms of child abuse and there needs to be more of an international outcry – and action to put an immediate stop to this practice. Children deserve to enjoy their childhood and their youth without become human weapons of terror. Any sincere path to peace depends on this.