July 14, 2000
GAZA, July 13 (Reuters) – Sixteen-year-old Akram Soboh wrestled an Israeli
soldier to the ground and then slit his throat with a knife.
The soldier was not harmed. Nor was he an Israeli.
He was a Palestinian teenager taking part in a training exercise for 150
youths at a refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip.
If Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
fail to forge a peace treaty at a crucial summit in the United States, Soboh
might be doing it for real. Israeli and Palestinian officials warn that if the
summit fails, the region might be consumed by violence much worse than the
seven-year-long Palestinian Intifida or uprising which began in 1987 against
Israel’s military occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Then, angry youngsters threw stones at Israeli troops armed with automatic
weapons in a one-sided struggle that pushed the Palestinian question back into
the world’s headlines.
“It will be a different kind of Intifada. Not only will we use stones, but
weapons too,” Soboh said.
At the start of the two-month course, Soboh and other boys, some as young as
10, learned how to handle AK-47 automatic rifles, fight with knives and throw
Chanting “Long-live Palestine, let Israel die,” some of the boys crawled on
their bellies under a wire fence which had been set on fire, while an instructor
live rounds into the dust.
The boys learned how to disarm Israeli soldiers and practised capturing a
The “settlement,” a wooden hut with an Israeli flag flying over it, was
conquered when some of the boys threw Molotov cocktails while others attacked
from the rear.
Arafat’s Fatah faction organised the training to prepare youngsters for the
sort of clashes with Israelis which might erupt if the two sides are unable to
meet a September deadline to resolve highly-charged disputes such as the fate of
“We will be behind President Arafat towards peace or towards war,” Soboh told
Soboh, like so many of the 3.6 million Palestinian refugees living in camps
in Gaza, the West Bank and in exile beyond, hopes the talks will lead to the
establishment of a Palestinian state — along with the return of the refugees
and their descendents forced to flee their villages in 1948 when Israel was
Arafat has said he will declare an independent Palestinian state this year,
regardless of whether a deal has been struck.
Israeli officials say that if Arafat unilaterally declares a state then
Israel too would take unilateral steps — such as annexing parts of the West
Bank and Gaza Strip.
Military analysts warn of violence if this happens.
“We are training them to be ready for the declaration of a state. They should
be prepared for self-defence if a confrontation is imposed on them,” said one of
the instructors, Abdel-Raouf Barbakh, a leading Fatah activist.
He said Palestinians were alarmed by reports that the Israeli army was
stockpiling arms at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in anticipation of
clashes. Israel has denied the reports as an “exaggeration.”
Some 5,000 Jews live in settlements in the Gaza Strip, scattered among 1.2
million Palestinians. Israel captured Gaza from Egypt and the West Bank from
Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war.
Barbakh said he plans to take the course to other parts of Gaza and hopes
that by September, 3,000 youths will have graduated.
“We hope we won’t be dragged into a conflict and that the kids who receive
the training will only be peacekeeping soldiers,” he said.
GAZA CITY, July 14 (AFP) — Towfiq Kahil, 15, marched with some 200 other Palestinian
boys, stomping his feet and swishing his arms with military precision.
“Al Quds! Al Quds! Al Quds!” Towfiq and the others yelled as they paraded at
a summer camp for 10 to 18 year olds in Gaza City, shouting the Arabic name for
Jerusalem, the city the Palestinians dream of making the capital of a future
“I am happy to be in this camp that teaches us the history of the Palestinian
people, how to defend ourselves and military training to defend the land of our
fathers,” said Towfiq.
Towfiq added that he hopes his marching will help him be selected for an
elite group that will begin weapons training next week.
As Palestinians and Israelis fear violence could erupt if a peace summit at
Camp David, Maryland, fails, the Palestinian Authority has increased the
military-style training it gives to the some 30,000 children that attend its
free summer camps.
In an unprecedented move in the Gaza Strip and a rare one in the West Bank,
the Palestinian Authority will instruct some 3,600 children how to operate
automatic rifles, deal with fires and tear gas and act in combat situations.
The 42 summer boot camps in the Gaza Strip began last week, but the armed
portion is not expected to kick off until the best-performing children are
chosen for it. A similar number of camps are due to begin in the West Bank over
the next few days.
The 21-day camps have been running since the establishment of the Palestinian
Authority, in 1994.
An instructor at Towfiq’s camp, which is named after one of the Arab villages
flattened by the Israelis during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, said a “new
generation of Palestinians must learn to defend themselves.”
“It will only be how to use pistols, kalashnikovs and other light weapons.
They will learn to shoot at the end of the camp. We don’t want war, but to
defend ourselves,” said the instructor, an officer in the Palestinian security
services, who asked not to be named.
He said the weapons training was needed to make sure Israel will accede to
the Palestinians’ wish to establish an independent state on September 13 on all
of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including east Jerusalem, even without a peace
deal with Israel.
“The Palestinian youth must be ready in case of Israeli intransigence in
implementing international laws and signed peace agreements and because of our
upcoming state declaration,” the instructor said.
Col. Mohammed Harara, one of the senior organizers of the Gaza summer camps,
said only 1,800 boys of the 15,000 boys and girls in Gaza would be chosen to
wear the military fatigues and black t-shirts, emblazoned with the image of
Jerusalem’s Aqsa mosque, worn by the selected brigade.
The others, he said, will continue to learn self-defense and Palestinian history.
In Hebron, where Palestinian children have received arms training in the
past, organizers said weapons courses would be stepped up this year.
“There will be many events led by Palestinian military officers, in
particular in terms of athletics, marching, self-defense and basic first-aid,”
“There will also be cultural portions about the Arab-Israeli conflict, Arab
and Islamic history, the geography of Palestine and the Arab world, the military
operations undertaken during the Palestinian revolution, and lectures about the
Arab villages destroyed by Israel in 1948,” he added.
Both Israel and the Palestinians have complained that the two sides are
preparing for military solutions in case negotiations fail.
The Israeli army has confirmed that it is reinforcing Jewish settlements and
distributing guns and anti-riot gear to the settlers.
The largest Palestinian faction, Fatah, has declared a state of alert and
called on all of its members, many of whom are armed, to be ready to confront