On Thursday, June 2nd, 2016 in Voices.
Recently, a controversial video showed up on the social media. It depicts a group of kindergarten children in Gaza dressed up like combatants of the Al-Quds Brigades (armed wing of Islamic Jihad). They are on an imaginary mission attacking an Israeli military base, launching mortar shells, bombing a tank and capturing an Israeli soldier. It was filmed during the graduation ceremony at Al-Huda Islamic kindergarten, which is controlled by the Islamic Jihad Movement (the second most powerful movement in Gaza Strip).
Islamic Jihad leader Khadir Habib made a speech at the ceremony where he said,
“Such a ceremony shows to the entire world that we are a nation that values life and respects the other… We are not terrorists, as the occupation attempts to picture us… We deserve to live as the rest of the world, in peace and security. Today’s children are sending the world a message that we have love in our hearts that could overwhelm the entire world. But our enemy compels us to carry guns to defend our women and elders. The entire world must bear responsibility to stop such crimes and violations… Today’s message of those children is: we don’t aspire to kill anybody, we are not terrorists or murderers, we don’t want to kill you, just lift the blockade, don’t lead us to bloodshed by continuing to violate our rights and oppress our people.”
Habib concluded “Woe to you [Israel], when you murder those children’s families and destroy their homes… The world must stop such oppression against our people”.
The video passed unnoticed on the local level, except for some people who were very upset and disappointed with such a production. A few, desperate others were happy to see the “new brave and fearless generation who’ll bring our rights back”.
It might be said that it’s not a big deal when a kid wears such outfits, that it’s a global phenomenon, especially in the US where kids often carry fake guns and dress up like US military “freedom fighters”. And when some kids like to dress as their favorite movie-heroes such as Spiderman and Avengers, others would tend to favor the dress of their own national heroes. It would also be a miracle if Gazan kids went unaffected by their violent surroundings. UNICEF has pointed out already that 300,000 Gazan children are still in severe need of emotional and psychological support.
Another tedious opinion is that Israeli children are being put through much more worse, are being trained to carry real weapons, and are being brainwashed from birth to shout death to Arabs. But undoubtedly, making such defensive arguments with traditional unprogressive comparisons, such as “We might be bad but they are worse” or “Look what they brutally did to us,” is insufficient.
The problem here is not whether a child likes to dress up like a soldier. Rather, it’s the troubling questions, “Were they exploited to deliver some message?” and “Who’s the heartless person who trained them for such theater play? “If Hamas and Islamic Jihad are raising their children to become fearless fighters in armed brigades, then such a phenomenon would immediately disappear if Gaza was given some fresh air instead of dying slowly on ventilators; if developmental projects were implemented instead of periodic charitable donations; if rehabilitation psychologists were allowed in to Gaza to fix what 10 years of blockade has cumulatively destroyed.
If young people were given something worth living for, instead of draining and hollowing their souls to the point that some might think their martyrdom might achieve more than their existence, the problem captured in the video would vanish overnight.
Days after the video’s release, Islamic Jihad still hasn’t made any comment. The only comment came from former Minister of Health Bassim Na’eem who’s now heading a self-proclaimed Civil Society Organization called International Relations Council. Na’eem wrote on his Facebook page, “Such videos do not serve our cause and disseminating them doesn’t serve our interest, but in contrast, it causes great damage… and I think that even in the history of our Prophet (PBUH), there is strong evidence and commandments against the militarization and recruitment of children”.
Indeed, such videos will surely be exploited by Israeli propaganda. They’ll say, “See how they raise their children to become terrorists!” But regardless of how heartbreaking, sickening or disgraceful this incident might be, it should never be forgotten that those 5 years old kids have known nothing in their short lifetime but wars, blockade and electricity blackouts for 18 hours a day. It must set off alarm bells that the situation in the Gaza Strip is strictly intolerable. One should notice that the insufferable blockade has not succeeded in disarming Hamas and dismantling the tunnels. It has only enraged more people, and traumatized hundreds of thousands ofothers.The world must take responsibility to save an entire generation thatis growing up with fear, disaffection and severe traumas. It’s time—as the UN Human Rights Council has said–to “lift immediately unconditionally the blockade of Gaza”.