From an Army Intelligence report on the exploitation of Arab youth and children by terrorist organizations for the purpose of carrying out terrorist attacks, terror-supporting activities and violent operations against the IDF.
In recent months, three attacks involving teenagers have been thwarted: a suicide attack in Israel by a 17-year-old male who blew himself up near Jinspot, a village east of Qalqilya; a shooting attack in Afula by three teenagers 13-15 years old, who were arrested near an army roadblock in Jenin; and an attempt to smuggle munitions from Egypt in the Rafah area by teens aged 11-14 years.
These incidents highlighted once again the exploitation of children and teens by terrorist organizations: young people who were instilled with messages of hate and incitement against Israel were recruited from the beginning of the current conflict to carry out attacks, including suicide bombings, and to participate in violence and terrorism-supporting activities (demonstrations; confrontations with soldiers; smuggling; spying; digging tunnels). This phenomenon has attracted sharp criticism in the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian society, but the PA has not taken any effective steps against it and even uses injured children and youth for propaganda purposes at home and abroad.
Terror-related events in which minors were involved
Recently, three cases in which youth were exploited by terrorist organizations were identified and thwarted:
In addition to the above, children and teenagers continue to take active part in demonstrations and violent events, sometimes spontaneously and sometimes at the initiative of terrorist groups. They frequently get caught in the middle of fighting between the terrorists and IDF soldiers. In a recent case (11 February), children and youth were injured as they crowded together with masked rioters who were exchanging fire with an IDF force in the northern Gazan neighborhood of el-Shajaya.
Characteristic features of the exploitation of minors by terrorist organizations
The use of children and youth by terrorist organizations to carry out attacks, including suicide bombings, is well known. As part of the practice of including them in violent activities and in terror-supporting operations, children and youth are sent to participate in demonstrations and in confrontations with the army (at times they are taken out of school for this purpose). Terrorist groups also use them for smuggling, digging tunnels, spying and intelligence-gathering. The terrorists exploit their innocent appearance, which allows them to pass more easily through IDF roadblocks and to approach soldiers and Israeli settlements, the fact that they are easy to influence and recruit because of their tender age and the intensive incitement to which they have been exposed, and the tendency of Israeli soldiers to refrain from harming children and youth.
It should be noted that the recruiting of young people and their integration into operations that include suicide bombings reached a peak in 2002. Since then there has been a decrease in the exploitation of teens for use in terrorist operations, but the phenomenon still exists, as was demonstrated recently. The use of children and youth for terror-supporting activities is continuing, as is the encouragement to participate in demonstrations and confrontations with Israeli soldiers.
These children and teenagers, who are often used as "cannon fodder" by terrorist groups, grow up in an environment that instills in them hatred of Israel and a "culture of The Struggle" against Israel. Palestinian Arab children absorb these values at home, from the games they play, in the mosques, from television (which frequently shows programs of incitement and fomentation featuring children and teenagers), from educational frameworks (formal and extra-curricular), at summer camps, and in a variety of other ways. Some of these children, after they have grown up, supply the manpower for terrorist organizations. Some of them participate in violent activities and terrorist operations while they are still minors, either out of nationalist and religious motives (the desire to be a part of the struggle against Israel and the willingness to die a martyr's death for the sake of Allah), or out of economic motives (living in conditions of poverty make them ripe for temptation, even of relatively small sums of money).
This exploitation of children and youth by terrorist groups has been sharply criticized in Palestinian society (see below), even by officials in the PA. Police commissioner Ghazi el-Jebali issued guidelines in 2002 stating that school children should not be sent to confrontation areas, in order not to endanger them. However, by not taking effective steps to keep children and youth out of the violence, the PA has ensured that these guidelines remain on paper only. This is consistent with Arafat's and the PA's strategy of avoiding conflict with the terrorist organizations as well as their interest in maintaining the momentum of the fight against Israel as well as their desire to reap the propaganda benefits from wounded children and youth.
Accordingly, the PA has adopted a public relations strategy that emphasizes the role of children and youth in the Intifada, while exploiting the injuries caused by the IDF (unwittingly) or by Palestinian fire to children caught in the midst of the fighting. As part of this strategy, Israel is often presented on television as a "conqueror without restraints" who does not think twice about hurting children while, to strengthen the message, horrific pictures of dead and wounded children are shown in the background. Some of the children killed at the beginning of the Intifada have been turned into symbols of the Palestinian struggle, and books, articles, songs and movies have been devoted to them. Their deaths have been exploited for profit on the world public opinion market, to fan the flames of hatred and revenge and to cultivate the Palestinian street's consciousness of the violent struggle.
Encouragement vs. Criticism
The terrorist organizations, particularly the Hamas, very often use militant Islamic messages to encourage children and teenagers to join the conflict and to participate in military operations, including suicide bombings. Some examples follow:
Furthermore, Islamic terrorist organizations are not the only ones to instill in children the value of dying for the sake of Allah (shahada); Arafat and the Palestinian Authority indulge also. Thus, Arafat's speech on the occasion of "Palestinian Child Day", broadcast by Palestinian television (1 June 2003), in which Arafat conveyed a militant Islamic message to the Palestinian child, based on Islamic tradition, encouraged the children to be fighters on Islam's front line (rabat) and to die as martyrs for Allah, while bestowing special status on the ones thus killed (shaheeds).
On the other hand, harsh criticism has been leveled against endangering the lives of school children, and especially against sending young people on suicide missions. The criticism comes from officials in the PA, the children's families, and figures in the Palestinian media. For example:
Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry