August 27, 2006.
GAZA – On Sheikh Ajlin Beach, dozens of Palestinian children are shouting and
playing and splashing each other, like children anywhere. They are at summer
camp. The lifeguard moves in between them, blowing his whistle and ordering
them to stay within the marked-off swimming area. There are always a few
who stray, deliberately or not. When that happens the teenaged girls who lead
the various activities wade into the water in their long dresses and head
coverings to make sure that the future generation of Islamic Jihad does not
drown in the ocean. The organization runs the camp for disadvantaged children.
All the Palestinian factions have been talking about social welfare in the past
several weeks, including Islamic Jihad. Hisham, one of the camp directors,
volunteers to discuss the children’s schedule. He prefaces his remarks with the
opening chapter of the Koran, Al-Fatiha.
“Gaza suffers from shellings, terrible economic straits and threats to the life of
each one of these children day and night,” Hisham explains. “So we try to
detach them from the bad feelings and the horrors they are exposed to. They
come in the morning and have lessons in sports such as soccer or volleyball.
Afterward they go to the beach, where they swim and run around, followed by
lunch. We don’t forget our martyrs, and we teach them about making sacrifices
on behalf of the Palestinian people and tell them the truth about Islam.”
When asked about this “truth,” Hisham launches into a monologue on history
from his perspective: “We teach the children the truth. How the Jews
persecuted the prophets and tortured them. We stress that the Jews killed and
slaughtered Arabs and Palestinians every chance they got. Most important, the
children understand that the conflict with the Jews is not over land, but rather
over religion. As long as Jews remain here, between the river and the
sea, they will be our enemy and we will continue to pursue and kill them. When
they leave we won’t hurt them.”
Hisham explains that the children pay only a token fee for the camp, which is
underwritten by “businessmen from Gaza and abroad who contribute so we can
host the children of martyrs and prisoners.”