Hamas sacrifices Gaza children, and UNRWA is complicit - opinion

From jihadist indoctrination in their education system to using them as human shields, Hamas’ abuse of Gaza’s children runs rampant.

A school where the IDF fought Hamas terrorists in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
A school where the IDF fought Hamas terrorists in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

The Israel-Hamas war has revealed many instances of Hamas’ misconduct toward Gaza’s children. On several occasions during its ground operation in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has found Hamas’ military equipment hidden in schools, entrance hatches to Hamas tunnels under baby cribs, and rocket launchers placed in areas that children frequent. Various reports have also been published addressing the anti-Israel and antisemitic indoctrination and hate taught to Gaza’s children in their education system.

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The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, oversees a big part of Gaza’s education system, and its teaching curriculum and the behavior of its staff since Oct. 7 have shown that incitement against Jews and Israel is a large part of their activities.

UN Watch, a Geneva-based organization that monitors the UN, published a report on Wednesday exposing how Hamas’ Oct. 7 atrocities were extensively celebrated in a 3000-member Telegram group composed of UNRWA’s staff. In November, an Israeli organization called IMPACT-SE also published an extensive report detailing the connection between education received in UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip and the Oct. 7 massacres carried out by Hamas.

Dina Rovner, Legal Advisor at UN Watch, told The Media Line that this is a long-standing issue. She explained that since 2015, UN Watch has exposed more than 150 UNRWA staff Facebook pages that incite antisemitism and jihadi terrorism. “We have always maintained that the Facebook posts are just a symptom of a much more systemic problem—the fact that UNRWA hires antisemitic and terror-supporting staff in the first place,” said Rovner.

“These are not just a few bad apples as UNRWA likes to claim,” she continued, noting that the Telegram group “shows that when UNRWA teachers think nobody is watching them, they openly promote Hamas terrorism, glorify the terrorists as ‘martyrs’ and ‘heroes,’ and believe this is a wonderful path for Palestinian children to follow,” she added.

 Palestinian at an UNRWA camp in Rafah after heavy rainfall, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 14, 2023. (credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
Palestinian at an UNRWA camp in Rafah after heavy rainfall, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 14, 2023. (credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)

Education system gave Hamas a 'golden opportunity' to indoctrinate kids

Dr. Michael Barak, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University in Herzliya, said that the indoctrination of children is a core tactic used by Hamas. “When Hamas got to power in 2007, it got a golden chance to have open access to also funding and to the school system to indoctrinate those kids from a young age,” he told The Media Line.

In addition to the curriculum of the UNRWA schools and the ones operated by Hamas, Barak noted that there are many other techniques used by the terror organization for this end.

Barak cited the case of a magazine used by Hamas called Al-Fateh. “There is an interesting section in this magazine, called ‘Wills of the Martyr.’ In this section are published the stories of Hamas martyrs to glorify the image of martyrs and stress why it is so important for the children to follow the Palestinian martyrs who sacrifice their own lives for the liberation of Palestine,” he added.

Furthermore, Hamas also has special summer schools where it trains children to use rifles and to do physical exercises and simulations to kill Israeli soldiers. Video games simulating killing soldiers are also part of this indoctrination system, according to Barak.

However, Hamas’ child abuse is not only limited to incorporating hate into the children’s education. Kids are also used as human shields by terror organizations as weapons are stored in institutions that children attend and frequent, including the rocket launchers used to attack Israeli towns.

Barak said that Hamas members who participated in the Oct. 7 massacre and were captured by the IDF admitted in the interrogations that Hamas had estimated that the IDF would not attack schools and hospitals in Gaza, which is why these buildings were used as covers for the terrorists. “They felt that they were secure in schools, and nobody would be looking over there,” Barak noted.

“This is an example of how Hamas cynically uses the Palestinian civilian population as human shields, which is a war crime under international law,” Rovner said. She stressed that Hamas is aware that storing weapons or operating in or near schools will convert these facilities into valid military targets and likely result in high civilian casualties for the Palestinians.

She also strongly believes that part of Hamas’ strategy is to inflate the Palestinian death toll and thereby increase international pressure on Israel to prematurely stop its military campaign before the IDF destroys Hamas.

However, given the fact that UNRWA has over 13,000 staff in Gaza, “UNRWA cannot claim it did not know [about Hamas’ abuses] and is, therefore, complicit in Hamas’ crimes,” said Rovner.

Last week, the IDF released a video showing Hamas members entering their tunnels in Gaza with Palestinian children. Barak sees it as a way for Hamas to give the children a sense of belonging and empower their identity as future warriors.

However, he pointed out that indoctrinating children and involving them in terror activities is a common practice among jihadist terror organizations. “You see this also in the Taliban, al-Qaida, and ISIS. They also prepare the younger generation for jihad,” he said, noting that videos show how Islamic State teachers teach children about Islam while also showing them how to operate rifles and pistols.

Rovner stressed that these practices must stop in Gaza to achieve peace. “In our view,” she said, “peace will only be possible if Palestinians are taught that Israel has a right to exist, that they [the Palestinians from Gaza] cannot return to their homes inside Israel’s borders, and that they must pursue a path of peace with Israel rather than jihad and martyrdom.”