October 10, 2004.
He defied the orders of his father and the pleas of his friends and walked a few
blocks from his home to watch Palestinian militants fight Israeli soldiers.
Hours later, Mohammed al-Najar, 12, was dead, one side of his face sheared off
by a tank shell fired at combatants during one of the fiercest battles of the
weeklong Israeli incursion here.
The boy died last week doing what many children do when the shooting starts
— he rushed to the masked gunmen, excited by the action, the noise, the
Israeli army commanders complain that militants use the boys as human shields,
but the children often run to the gunmen on their own, against the orders of
their parents — a result of what many here say is a breakdown in the traditional
authority of the Palestinian family.
“Some people would say he is a hero, a martyr,” says Mohammed’s friend
Hamza Khalid, 14. “Some people would say that his father did not take care of
At least 88 Palestinians have been killed since last week in this Israeli offensive
in northern Gaza. Human rights groups say at least half of those killed were
civilians and at least 18 were 16 years old or younger.
While those youngsters were apparently innocent bystanders, some battle the
Israelis and others venture near to see the fighting. Experts say the adolescents
are attracted to risky adventures and enthralled by a culture that embraces
“These children are growing up in a unique environment,” says Samir Qouta, a
psychologist with the Gaza Community Mental Health Program. “They have lost
their childhood, and the father’s role is collapsing.”
Children living in this camp face what Qouta describes as “ongoing trauma,” in
which a child getting over the death of a friend or relative has to be ready for
another loss and to grieve all over again.
Facing the Israelis is equivalent to challenging one’s own destruction, he says,
and children who feel that death is inevitable would rather take destiny into
their hands than wait to be killed by a bullet in their home.
Additionally, he and colleagues say, the Palestinian father’s traditionally strong
stature has been diminished in the eyes of his children, who perceive his
inability to stop the fighting as a weakness. Unable to fill his role as protector,
he is unable to exert control as a father.
“Palestinians, like any other people, are concerned for the health of their
children,” Qouta says. “They don’t want their children to be involved in the
fighting. But they are failing.
“The children need role models, and with their fathers perceived as being weak,
they are looking for someone to emulate. In Gaza, that is a gunman.”
Haj al-Najar, 48, says Mohammed rose early last Sunday, showered and set off
for Prep A, a school run by the United Nations that was taken over by Israeli
soldiers in the first days of the battle. He says his son wanted to see whether
the school was open, and he was killed nearby.
But Mohammed’s uncle says the boy argued with his father the night before
about confronting the Israeli soldiers and the distraught father could not admit
to himself that he had been unable to save his son.
“Of course, we are afraid for our children,” says Diab al-Najar, 32. “We want
our children to grow up, not to be killed. The problem is, the camp is very
small. They go out to play, not to fight. They go out, and who knows what
happens to them? When they see gunmen, they run after them.”
Mohammed excelled in school and was known for his fearlessness. He had
asked two friends to join him Sunday on the front lines, but both had refused.
“I told him I didn’t think he was coming back,” says Mahmoud Youssef Abu
Mohammed scoffed at them, Hamza says. “He told us that we were weak, that
we were nothing.”
Mahmoud says the attraction of the fighters is often too much to ignore.
“Sometimes we go to help,” he says. “Sometimes we go to throw stones. But
we are afraid. Sometimes children go because they want to be martyred.”
Those who participate, he says, “become big men” in the camp.
Hamza says he thinks the exercise is futile and best left to experienced
gunmen. “What am I going to do with a stone against a tank?” he says.
Both boys are small and frail, and their views are shaped by the daily gunbattles
outside their front doors in the confines of the refugee camp, where 106,000
people are packed into a half-mile square.
Of the two, only Hamza has ventured outside the camp — a brief trip to a
hospital in neighboring Gaza City, a 15-minute drive that he excitedly calls “an
excursion.” He says he dreams about Norway, a place he knows because he
tried out unsuccessfully for a spot on the Palestinian national soccer team,
which was to play there.
Internet and television
What they know about the outside is largely shaped by the Internet, which
costs two Israeli shekels — about 50 cents — an hour at a local cafe. They use it
once a week, spending some of their daily one-shekel allowance. Local
television airs unending footage of the fighting accompanied by nationalistic
“We want a future,” says Hamza, who wants to be a scientist but laments that
such a dream is futile under the circumstances. Though he is reluctant to
become a militant now, he concedes that “I might want to grow to be a
Hamza says his father forbade him from confronting the Israeli soldiers. “I listen
to him most of the time,” he says.
Ala’a Khalid, 19, is one the children look up to. He is advancing slowly in the
military wing of Hamas, the Izzedine al-Kassam Brigades, having embarked on
his mission at age 15 by throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.
Now he runs between alleys supplying masked gunmen with bullets and acting
as a lookout. He has begun training with the Kalashnikov assault rifle, one of
the final steps in the 18-month training process to become a fighter.
Khalid says the children “are not shields. They are not standing in front of the
people defending the camp. They stand behind and help the wounded.”
He, too, is defying his father’s orders not to take part in the fighting.
“Of course I’m not obeying,” he says. “We have to help the resistance.”
Khalid is someone the Israeli army would call a “martyr-in-waiting.” He calls
himself “a live martyr” and says he understands that his path probably will lead
to an early death.
He spoke in the back of a small store between Mohammed’s house and the
Israeli army positions. Children gathered, listening intently to his message that
“jihad must come first,” even before growing up.
Palestinian children in combat support roles
Behavior mirrors teachings in PA schoolbooks and popular culture.
Palestinian Media Watch Bulletin, October 17, 2004.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has revealed that Palestinian
children are actively aiding terrorists in Gaza. In a striking example of the way in
which the new PA curriculum has indoctrinated children, the children have
assumed the exact combat support roles they have been taught in the new PA
This text book indoctrination compliments PA music videos and other
forms of popular culture, that aim to convince children that their place is in the
heart of battle zones.
This latest revelation of children’s active participation in combat coincides with
the renewed broadcast (at least 10 times since Oct. 4) of a popular music video
that explicitly demands that children participate in combat – even when it may
lead to their death. (See below)
An article this week in the official PA daily, reported that children are aiding
terrorists in the following combat support roles:
“In spite of family members’ warnings, groups of children are spreading
around the camp, both to pass on information to the resistance and to
bring them water.” (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Oct. 11, 2004)
It should be stressed that supplying water and gathering information for
terrorists in active combat zones, puts these children in life-threatening
situations and has led to the deaths of many children.
Note that the term “resistance” is used by the PA leadership and media
to refer to all terrorists, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others.
These two combat support roles are precisely the roles taught in PA
schoolbooks. A 6 th grade schoolbook teaches PA children to follow the
example of a young child, who according to Islamic tradition, fulfilled these
combat support roles.
According to this tradition while Muhammad and his companion Abu
Bakr hid in a cave, Abu Bakr’s young daughter aided them by passing them
information about the enemy and giving them water. The schoolbook teaches
children to see themselves in similar roles with such language as: “Asma, Abu
Bakr’s daughter, was my age when she played a role…” and immediately asks
the question: “What role can I play …?”
The following is the full schoolbook text:
“Asma, Abu Bakr’s daughter, was my age when she played a role in
supplying provisions and water and passing information about Kuraish to
the Prophet and his companion during their secret Hegira from
Mecca to Medina.
What role can I play in order to support the national resistance
movement against the occupier and colonialist?”
Note also that the PA schoolbook’s defining Israel as “colonialist” is an
important component of the denial of Israel’s right to exist taught in the PA
schoolbooks and popular culture. Teaching that Israel is a foreign European
“colonial” creation is intended to give both legitimacy and zeal to the hatred
and violence the PA actively inculcates among PA children.
This week’s revelation is yet another reminder that the new PA textbooks still
promote hatred and violence, contrary to the false information being spread by
Palestinian apologists. This is also a confirmation of that this education indeed
is reflected in the violent and life threatening behavior of Palestinian children.
Music Video Returns to PA TV:
It is striking that this report on PA children in combat coincides with a return to
PA TV of a insidious music video that demands children participate in combat
even if it leads to their death as a Shahid (Martyr for Allah).
This clip had not been broadcast on PA TV since this video was shown
in a US Senate hearing one year ago, as part of the testimony of PMW director
Itamar Marcus. His testimony, exposing the use of PA children in combat roles,
and the subsequent media reaction, had brought pressure on the PA to stop
indoctrinating children to aspire to Shahada death.
This video has now returned and has been broadcast at least 10 times in
the last 13 days.
The words of the clip are sung by a woman vocalist wearing an army uniform,
and the visuals include children in frenzied war dances, interspaced between
scenes of children participating in violence in combat zones.
The following are the words of the music video:
“Shake the earth, raise the stones.
You will not be saved, Oh Zionist, from the volcano of my country’s
You will not be saved, Oh Zionist, from the volcano of my country’s
You are the target of my eyes, I will even willingly fall as a Shahid
You are the target of my eyes, I will even willingly fall as a Shahid. Allah
Akbar, Oh the young ones”.
The similar messages found in formal PA
education and popular culture, together with the reported children’s
participation in combat roles, are further indication of the child abuse by the PA
leadership for political purposes, and the tragedy they have brought on their
own children and the entire region.