Gaza’s children and educating hatred

Over the past few days the blogosphere has raged over the fact that in Gaza, Islamic Jihad is running camps for kids featuring lessons on how to shoot an AK-47 and how to kidnap an Israeli soldier.

June 24, 2013 21:17
Palestinian children celebrate Hamas founding, Dec. 8, 2012

Palestinian children celebrate Hamas founding 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)

Over the past few days the blogosphere has raged over the fact that in Gaza, Islamic Jihad is running camps for kids featuring lessons on how to shoot an AK-47 and how to kidnap an Israeli soldier. In an Agence France Presse YouTube video, the commander of the children’s camp says, “We have full confidence that they [the children] will be able to carry weapons and open fire against the enemy because we have planted hatred of the enemy in their hearts.” According to the AFP and MEMRI, tens of thousands of young boys ages 6 to 16 will be indoctrinated into this mindset this summer.

A camp to indoctrinate children to hate? Incomprehensible to the Western mind. Indeed it is antithetical to our core belief that love is the basis of all human relationships and must be at the heart of emotional and psychological health. So we have to ask is going on here? Are the commander of the camp and his supporters simply evil people bent on the psychological destruction of a generation of Palestinian children? And the physical destruction of Israelis? In a recent week’s Haftorah portion for Chukot, the elders of Gilead came to the previously scorned Yiftach and begged him to take his men, a band of bullies and outlaws, and lead the defense of the borders of Israel against the threatening Ammonites. Before the battle, Yiftach sent emissaries to the king of the Ammonites to ask, “Why are you fighting us? What did we ever do to you?” The king responded “Because Israel took my land when they ascended from Egypt.”

Yiftach’s response: “That was land you lost in war to the Emorites, and we took it from the Emorites three hundred years ago. We’ve been there ever since.

Why are you suddenly claiming the land now?” The king responded. “It’s ours and we want it back. If you don’t return it, it means war.”

In the Middle East, people have long memories, particularly when they are thinking about their homeland. We Jews after all never gave up hope of returning to Zion and prayed for it for two thousand years. One of our halachic claims to the land is the fact that we never gave up hope of a return. And in fact, it worked.

It is said that there are Palestinians who have the keys to the houses they left in 1948 on a cord around their neck. When asked where they are from, Palestinian children in refugee camps often answer with the name of the village their family fled in 1948.

So it appears that the Palestinians are trying to do the same thing that the Jews did; keep their connection to the land they lost during what they hope is a temporary exile – but they’re doing it through creating hatred in their children rather than love for their land and their people.

When the UN partitioned Palestine, the Jews, tempered by a couple of thousand years in the Diaspora and influenced by the European enlightenment, decided to compromise and accept part of what they considered their rightful homeland. The Arabs did not experience the enlightenment, (let alone the emancipation) and couldn’t relate to the concept of compromise at all.

They have never given up their desire to return to their homes, they have never given up on their certainty that Israel’s very presence in Palestine is unjust, and they have never given up their desire to drive the Jews into the sea. But without the ability and will to compromise, whether they know it or not, they have no hope.

In fact there is no evidence that an Israeli return to pre-1967 borders would result in a lasting peace. The opposite is true. Whenever Israel has withdrawn from territory, Gaza or Southern Lebanon for instance, it has resulted in more war and more terrorism.

And in a perverse way this makes sense, even assuming that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and moderate Palestinians are committed to peace, the Palestinian people as a whole still believe that the Jews stole their land. That a Jewish state has no place in the Middle East.

And so the incitement against Israelis and Jews in the Palestinian and other Arab media continues apace. A brief perusal of MEMRI’S website will show that an anti-Israel theme runs through the textbooks and children’s shows on Palestinian television. One can only imagine the psychological impact of having “hatred of the enemy planted in the hearts” of children as young as six years old. You won’t find such deliberate poisoning of a youngster’s mind in any program in Israel. And if you did, the organization and its leadership would be run out of town! For instance, in contrast to the Islamic Jihad camps, we at The Koby Mandell Foundation run camps that help kids who have lost immediate family members to terror reach their full potential and serve their country with activities that are safe, fun and healing.

This summer around 400 children will attend Camp Koby and Yosef, a 10-day summer camp named after our son Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ishran, murdered by Palestinian terrorists 12 years ago.

Camp Koby provides children ages 8-18 who have lost an immediate family member to terror or tragedy with a fun and exciting place to get away from the everyday pressures of life in Israel. Many of the activities are led by professional therapists who, through art, drama, music and other forms of play therapy give children the opportunity to express their emotions and anxieties concerning their family’s trauma and to do it in a way that is safe, creative and healing.

This, we contend, is the humane response to tragedy – to use the trauma and pain to motivate yourself and others to create a better, kinder world. If those who work with the children of Gaza had a similar goal perhaps we could overcome the true obstacle to peace – the Palestinians’ insistence on planting the poison of hatred in successive generations of their children.

As Golda Meir once said, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

The author is a rabbi and co-founder of The Koby Mandell Foundation.

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