February 9, 2015
Gaza – Thousands of teens graduated training camps run by the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the militant organization affiliated with the Hamas political party. Some of the teens are as young as 14 years old.
The main reason the 17,000 teens signed up for training is the loss of a relative during Israel’s bombing campaign last summer that killed 2,200. One of the youngest recruits, Hatem, told AFP:
“The Israelis killed my niece last summer. Now I want to kill them.”
The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades is the largest of many insurgent groups operating in Gaza. Partisan tradition holds that for every innocent person killed by occupation forces, ten more will join the resistance. It appears that the consensus in Gaza is that almost all of those killed in the Israeli offensive were innocent. There were so many volunteers aged 14 to 21 that the camps had to run in two shifts.
The boys who do not have a normal school to attend because of the Israeli bombings were trained in small unit tactics, light and heavy infantry weapons, explosives, and hand to hand combat.
Abu Hamaz, a spokesman for the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, indicated the young men were to be activated in the event of another Israeli invasion:
“We are planting the first seed of the liberation army. We have organized similar camps in the past, but this is the first time we receive such a large number of trainees at al-Qassam Brigades’ military sites.
We are trying to take the initiative to strengthen the determination of these young men, and instill a culture of resistance in their minds — to nurture and motivate. We live in an occupied land. If there were to be an invasion in any area, young men would be ready to defend themselves with weapons and grenades.”
Children are killed in Gaza whether or not they are combatants. There are more than a dozen criminal investigations into activities committed by the Israeli soldiers in Gaza during the last offensive.
An activist who spoke on the condition of anonymity with AFP said:
“The camps are making young people aggressive instead of educating them and teaching them to abide by the law.”
The law in the area is what denies the boys any form of due process, freedom of movement, or basic human rights.
The West has uniformly condemned the recruitment of teens, citing the 14-year-old recruits and all but ignoring those of traditional military age. It should be noted that the United States recruits 17-year-olds and the United Kingdom recruits 16-year-olds. It isn’t unthinkable to believe that the US and the UK would lower their recruitment age by 2 or 3 years if they were completely surrounded, blockaded, and bombarded with no immediate hope of rescue. The United States has even threatened to cut off humanitarian aid if the Palestinians sought to press war crimes charges against Israel.
The events transpiring in Gaza force the world to question at what age is someone old enough to lay down their life for a line on a map. It also forces the question of whether or not it is better to allow a child to live as a prisoner or die in the attempt to gain freedom. Those are two questions I can’t answer.