Hamas has embarked on a massive campaign this summer to woo Gazan children away from UNWRA (United Nations Works and Relief Association) summer camps to its own camps. At Hamas summer camps, kids learned to wage war against Israel and were indoctrinated with Islamic ideology.
Hamas has run 700 summer camps throughout Gaza in 2009 at a budget of $2 million, which were attended by 100,000 children. according to a research report by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. In contrast, UNRWA ran camps that wereattended by between 200,000 to 250,000 kids. Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and other Islamic groups also run Gaza summer camps.
Leading up to the summer, Hamas embarked on a massive advertising campaign which included a designated website designed to encourage parents to send their children to Hamas camps instead of the UNWRA camps.
Hamas council member Younis al-Astel repeatedly lambasted the UNWRA camps for being coeducational, and claimed that campers there used drugs, learned how to dance, and worst of all, were taught about reconciliation between Gaza and Israel.
“[There is a] barbaric attack on our children at the inferior summer camps whose objective is to corrupt their morals with drugs and other things,” as-Astel said at a Hamas camp ceremony. The religious leadership in Gaza generally took the side of Hamas and encouraged parents to send children to its camps, which combine intense study of Islam and the Koran as well.
UNWRA reportedly gave in to some of the Hamas pressure and separated the sexes in its camps. Karen Abu Ziyyad, UNRWA commissioner general, also emphasized to the Al Arabiya TV station that kids in UNWRA camps played games and engaged in various cultural and sporting activities which “have no relation to normalization [with Israel] or anything like that.”
Besides learning about Islam and studying the Koran at Hamas summer camps, children also learn to fight in the Jihad against Israel. Children are taught weapons training, hand-to-hand combat, as well as the use of explosive belts for suicide missions.
In one incident in July, children in a Hamas summer camp reenacted the June 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, in which two other Israeli soldiers were killed.
“In the war against Israel, there were more than 100 children trained to attack Israeli forces in Gaza,” a source in Gaza told Middle East Newsline. “Some of them ran away and many of them were killed.”
Children in Hamas summer camps also protested the “Israeli siege” of Gaza, some laying on the ground in rows, faking death from starvation.