Like many others who grew up in the United States in the 1960s, I was a Boy Scout throughout much of my youth. Among my fondest memories are camping, arduous hikes and weekly troop meetings in which we planned community projects and fund-raising for worthy causes.
Our leaders were charismatic young men who always seemed to have so much to give. They taught us how to pitch tents, tie a range of knots, identify trees, plants and constellations, know our direction from the stars and construct campfires from all-natural materials that we could light reliably with a single match – even in rainy weather.
Well, maybe two matches.
Scout leaders were paragons in the community – role models who taught us by personal example how to be more civic minded, help others and aspire to be better people.
IN AN era when Hamas-run “Al-Quds Intifada” summer camps train Gazan children in weaponry and violence, and when Palestinian youths – incited by propaganda in schools, mosques and the media – commit murderous attacks, I found it hopeful to learn that there is a Palestinian Boy Scout movement. Scout ideals can play a role in countering the too-prevalent provocation that drives children to hatred and radicalization.
It was with disappointment and disgust, therefore, that I read in The Jerusalem Post two weeks ago that the Palestinian Scout Association, apparently a full member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, named its leadership- training course after the knife- and gun-wielding terrorist who murdered innocent bus riders in Jerusalem last October.
Among the murdered passengers was Richard Lakin, one of the gentlest men I knew. I met him through the Jerusalem community theater, and I treasure my autographed copy of his inspirational book Teaching as an Act of Love.
The Palestinian Authority is infamous for paying salaries to terrorists and glorifying terrorism by naming streets, schools, sporting events and more after murderers.
It never occurred to me, however, that it would turn the Boy Scout organization into a hapless tool to groom future killers.
I guess I should have known better.
The cynical use of the Scout movement for incitement was revealed by the NGO Palestinian Media Watch after examining the Palestinian Scout Association website. PMW disclosed this information to The World Organization of the Scout Movement, asking it to terminate the membership of the Palestinian branch. Allowing a branch of the Scout movement to present a murderer as a role model effectively makes the WOSM “a co-sponsor of this terror-promoting course,” wrote PMW director Itamar Marcus.
Marcus contacted Lakin’s bereaved son, Micah Lakin Avni, who appealed to the Scout leadership to take action against a branch of its movement glorifying his father’s murderer and exalting him as an example to be emulated by youth.
The Jerusalem Post Magazine contacted Stephen Peck, global director for communications at the World Organization of the Scout Movement. Upon conducting an inquiry he stated: “The group concerned is not a member of the Palestinian Scout Association or recognized by WOSM.”
Peck was informed that the Palestinian Scout Association officially recognized by the WOSM is not the Palestinian Scout Association represented on the website.
In short, the Palestinian Scout Association website, replete with official Scout symbols, news and activities, is an impostor. Perhaps even more bizarre, the genuine Palestinian Scout Association recognized by the WOSM “has not been able to secure a domain name in Palestine and therefore does not have a website,” Peck maintains – or even a Facebook page.
This scenario is roughly analogous to clicking on the American Cancer Society website and reading that smoking is healthy and does not cause cancer – only to discover that the site is fraudulent and the real American Cancer Society has no Web presence at all.
In a meticulously researched response to Peck, Marcus concluded that Peck was misled, noting that there are numerous points of intersection between WOSM, the “official” Palestinian Scout Association and the “rogue” Scout group. PMW noted that officials in the “official” Palestinian Scout Association are also in the “fraudulent” Palestinian Scout Association, suggesting that the two ostensibly different Scout groups are closely linked – or possibly one and the same. PMW documented that officials and activities of the “unofficial” Palestinian Scout Association appeared on the WOSM website itself.
“PMW found not one shred of evidence to back up their claims of two separate organizations with two different names. There can be no doubt that the Palestinian Scout Association officials have not been honest with Stephen,” Marcus concludes.
In Lakin Avni’s words, “Scouts don’t lie; terrorists do.”
Peck admitted that the WOSM “Regional director did visit east Jerusalem and met with the people you mention,” and that material from the “unofficial” Scout group did appear in the official WOSM site, making it virtually impossible for anyone to distinguish between the two Palestinian Scout Associations.
PMW “uncovered some fundamental issues with how our website is managed,” said Peck, enabling the non-recognized Scout group to post on the WOSM website in the user-generated content section. “The posts have been removed because they are inappropriate and give false information. The user accounts for those posting them have also been blocked.”
Peck added, “It appears we are up against a very clever operator in Mohamed Abo Alwafa, who runs the website and social media activities of the non-recognized group. He is clearly very social media savvy and able to manipulate information to suit his agenda. I would strongly urge us not to fall into what is clearly a trap by giving any credibility whatsoever to the activities of his group.”
Significantly, adds Peck, “The Palestinian Authority has no interest in distinguishing between ‘Scout’ groups recognized by WOSM and those not recognized.”
WHATEVER THE truth is, one cannot blame the international Scout movement for abhorrent actions of an official member branch (what’s next – merit badges for rock throwing at vehicles or for stabbing bus passengers?) and certainly not for the actions of an unofficial branch making unauthorized use of Scout symbols and intellectual property.
What one can expect, however, is for the WOSM to wage a vigorous effort to determine the truth and take appropriate action. Beyond condemning the allegedly unofficial organization, which Peck says he is “happy to do,” the WOSM seems to have taken little meaningful action.
Two specific Magazine requests to Peck last week remain unanswered at press time: 1) for contact information with anyone in the elusive “authorized” Palestinian Scout organization, and 2) for documentation of concrete steps that the WOSM has taken to engage the unauthorized PSA organization and demand that they stop using official Boy Scout symbols and terminology.
After all, if a Scout linked to the course named after a terrorist commits a terrorist attack, all Scout organizations connected to that course might be legitimate targets of broad legal action initiated by families of victims.
Unfortunately, incitement to murder from over the Green Line is all too common. Marcus and his group, vigilantly monitoring the Arabic media and taking steps to reduce incitement to violence, deserve appreciation.
As Scouts famously say, “Be prepared!” My appreciation is extended also to men like Peck, who are open to engaging with others, even when their positions are challenged.
I pray for the day when our enemies embrace the ideals that have inspired Boy Scouts worldwide for decades – and not pervert that very organization to groom and celebrate murderers.