The school year started yesterday in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and 90,000 pupils went back to school after summer vacation. Many of them spent the vacation in their homes, because of the curfew, many also spent it in summer camps that were organized by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other organizations.

Ostensibly, there is nothing wrong with that activity. Palestinian kids are also entitled to have a fun summer camp experience. But in Gaza, Hebron and Nablus, as in other locations in the territories, the summer camps were turned into a hot house of hatred and were used to nurture the national struggle against Israel, and the children were given training in the use of guns and in terrorism.

While the dire economic situation and the IDF presence in the West Bank cities forced the PA to reduce the scope of its summer camp activities this year, these activities were not forsworn. The PA allocated funds and enlisted international elements to help finance the summer camps. For example, UNICEF alone paid for 32 summer camps, each of which were attended by 120 children.

Every group in these summer camps was named after a shahid, while entire summer camps were named after villages and cities that are inside the Green Line. Children and teenagers learned how to shoot guns and were taken to target practice, they held paramilitary marches, and blew up models of buses and settlements.

Hamas used its summer camps, mostly in the Gaza Strip, to further ingrain the Islamic way of thinking, and to prepare the future generation of terror operatives. Special summer camps were held for the children of shahids, people who had been injured or who were in Israeli prisons.

Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority exploited the summer camps to hold political demonstrations. Three weeks ago a mass demonstration was held in Bethlehem for the release of the Palestinian prisoners in Israel, with Marwan Barghouti at the top of the list. The children bore placards, chanted in unison and let off balloons in the color of the Palestinian flag. A summer camp in Khan Yunis held a demonstration with the object of awakening the world’s attention to the desperate situation of the children of Palestine.

Islamic Jihad went the furthest when it turned its summer camps into training camps for all intents and purposes. Children between the ages of 10 and 12 underwent training in operating a Kalashnikov assault rifle while wearing bandannas on their heads covered with Islamic Jihad slogans. Instead of drawing, playing and swimming, the children learned war calls and were taught how to march.

The Aspiration: The Liberation of All Palestine

The summer camps, just like the school and the Palestinian educational system in general, have been exploited since the PA was established to help foster a consciousness of struggle against Israel among the younger Palestinian generation. A new lesson was added to the curriculum-“national education”-that was taught by counselors from the Palestinian Authority’s “political counseling unit.” In the framework of these lessons special emphasis was placed on developing the children’s national identity and on instilling the sense that the struggle for national liberation was not over because the “interim agreements” were only one stage in the liberation of all of Palestine.

In the school year in 2000 the PA began to introduce into the curriculum text books that it had written for the first and sixth grades. This year the PA published and distributed its own books for the second and seventh grades. An examination of the books that was conducted by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, found that the books systematically educate the children to rejecting the existence of the State of Israel and the fostering of feelings of hatred, revenge and violence.

The study that was conducted by Gilad’s office examined the incitement against Israel and its impact on the younger Palestinian generation. “Children between the ages of 12 to 15,” reads the report, “instead of focusing on their studies, playing, experiencing adolescence and planning a better future, are busy thinking about how they can play a role in terrorism and commit terror attacks.” The conclusion drawn by the report is that the souls of Palestinian children have been poisoned.

Examples? “The Canaanite Arabs were the first residents of Palestine. The Palestinians were there before the Jews.” “The Palestinian problem was created by the Zionist movement, which brought about the destruction or expulsion of the original residents.” “The refugees are the victims of robbery, who were forced to leave their homes under the threat of the guns of the Zionist terror organizations.”

For the Palestinian students, the Israeli Arabs live in the 1948 territories and, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they are a single unit that is known as Palestine. In general, the Palestinian text books completely disregard the existence of the State of Israel. Along with the negative messages, the Palestinian educational system instills in the pupils positive references about the destruction of Israel: the Palestinian return is the answer to the problem of the refugees, jihad-the holy war-is presented in positive terms, and the death of a shahid is a dignified death that is depicted as “martyrdom for Allah and for defending the homeland.”

But the incitement in the official school system pales against the incitement in the alternative schools offered by Hamas, which run from kindergarten through to the Islamic University in Gaza. This educational system is part of the Dawa-the dissemination of Islam and the deepening of the believer’s faith.

For example, the graduation ceremony of Hamas kindergartens included plays in which the children wore Hizbullah uniforms. One of the children played the role of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, while others dipped their hands in red paint, mimicking the picture of the Ramallah lynching.

PA officials are aware of Hamas’s incitement but do nothing to prevent it. Hamas has a lot of money from Moslem charities. Tuition to one of its summer camps is strictly symbolic. In a few Hamas kindergartens parents are asked to pay only NIS 15 per child. The children are not only fed, but also trained in handling guns and they are exposed to inordinate amounts of incitement and motivation that will turn them over time into members of a terror cell.

90% Want to Fight Against Israel

At the end of June Palestinian television broadcast a 20 minute movie called “Children who Love the Homeland and Martyrdom.” The movie was full of pictures of dead and injured Palestinian children. The child Mohammed a-Dura, of course, was one of the stars.

The movie interviews Dr. Fadel Abu-Alhin, a psychologist from Gaza, who explained that the participation of Palestinian children in the Intifada was not surprising. He said the Palestinian child understands that his death in a jihad operation will be a source of pride, and that is why children throng to the roadblocks and other points of friction.

Abu-Alhin spoke about a study he had carried out on 996 Palestinian children between the ages of 9 and 17. His study showed that 90 percent of the children wanted to take part in the Intifada, 73 percent wanted to be a shahid, 45 percent had taken part in marches and rallies, and some 50 percent said that they had been injured in the course of these activities. Fifty-nine percent of the children said they had taken an active role in the Intifada under the influence of the television broadcasts that showed the IDF’s violent activities in the territories, or after they watched the funeral processions of Palestinians who had been killed in the Intifada.

Sixty-two percent of the children said they wanted to become a shahid in the wake of the death of a classmate or a neighbor, but the overwhelming majority of the children said that Mohammed a-Dura’s death had the greatest impact on their desire to become a shahid.

People in the territories admit today that the younger generation has a deep hatred for Israel and for Jews in general, and its motivation to take part in acts of terror is perpetually on the rise. PA officials nowadays are also aware of the immense damage the pictures of armed children causes the PA, such as the picture of the baby from Hebron who was photographed while wearing a bomb belt. Now they are trying to fix the bad impression.

Zuheir Mansara, the commander of the Preventive Security Service in the West Bank, who replaced Jibril Rajoub, said this week that improving the PA’s image and “instilling a new Palestinian security consciousness” would also require the use of the media, the education system and the schools to be successfully achieved.

The Palestinian Journalists Union, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, issued instructions this weekend forbidding children bearing arms or in masks from being photographed. “This constitutes a severe violation of children’s rights. Those pictures have a negative impact on the Palestinian image and serve Israel and its propaganda campaign against the Palestinians,” read the statement that was issued to all the journalists, with an attendant warning that anyone who might disregard the instructions would be brought up on charges.

Hamas cannot afford to disregard the international and internal Palestinian criticism of the use of children in terrorism. In July Hamas publicly called to reduce the number of children used in the violent struggle. “We will prevent our youngsters from sacrificing themselves on the fences of the settlements,” read the call, “but without quelling the jihad fervor in them.” The message in that statement was simple: your time to die as a shahid will come.

And still, the children’s shows on Palestinian television continue to have songs with messages, such as the following: “Dear el-Aksa is calling us, Allahu Akbar — Oh little ones, take courage and hold the stones.”

This article ran in Yediot Aharonot on September 1, 2002