I have been following the news regarding the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza that started in November of last year closely. The relationship between the two is incredibly tense, and the violent conflict that occurred then was thankfully over soon. The ceasefire was called, and both sides welcomed the truce, however temporary it may be. Despite the fact that Hamas actually broke the ceasefire by firing 12 rockets into Israel on Day 1 of the truce, it managed to officially hold for about half a year. The ceasefire, however, has certainly ended; and the militarization of the children of Gaza seems to be more determined than ever.
Back and Forth
The interesting thing to me about the conflict with Israel and Gaza is the dynamics of power. Gaza has repeatedly fired rockets into Israel during the ceasefire, including one attempt just a month after the ceasefire, and four rockets during US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel on March 21. In fact, January was the only month that rockets were not fired on Israel by Hamas since the ceasefire took place.
But if you look at these facts alone, it may seem as though Israel is just a battered victim. The fact of the matter is that Gaza is incredibly weak compared to the military might of Israel, which is why the provocations by Hamas are that much more baffling. For example, one of the four rockets that were fired during President Obama’s visit didn’t even make it to Israel – it exploded in Gaza. Also, despite the over 1500 rockets that Gaza sent during the November conflict, it turned out that 160 Palestinians died in Gaza while only six Israelis died in Israel.
[June 24 update: Another example of Gaza’s military inferiority was when Hamas aimed several rockets at Israel a few days ago. The rockets didn’t even manage to make it past the border, exploding in Gaza instead of in Israel. They tried again today, but were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence. These acts are for some reason still being called a break in the ceasefire, though it’s clear that the word ceasefire is meaningless if it can be broken more than once.]
[June 28 update: At least as far as the rockets fired from this June 24 update go… it appears as though they were not fired from Hamas. Another faction in Gaza – Islamic Jihad – were deliberately trying to undermine the Hamas-Israel ceasefire by provoking an attack from Israel, so they fired those rockets.]
The discrepancy is simply because Israel has developed the best military defence system in the world, simply out of necessity, and their offensive prowess is so far unmatched in the region. As I said, it’s baffling why Gaza would be motivated to break a ceasefire, but these are the kinds of provocations that lead Israel to retaliate. And believe me – they do retaliate.
The ceasefire really began to deteriorate a few weeks ago. April 17th was the fifth day that month that Hamas had fired rockets into Israel, and the city of Eilat was what seemed to be targeted. In two instances, though, the rockets overreached their target, hitting Jordan, the next country over. A few days ago, in retaliation, Israel sent an air strike which killed a Palestinian in Gaza who was part of the jihadi group that claimed responsibility for the attack on Eilat. It’s also reported that two other Palestinians were wounded, likely having nothing to do with the attack.
According to independent.ie, Israel sent an airstrike earlier in April to retaliate against another rocket attack from Gaza, but the recent one was the first since the ceasefire to end in a fatality. However, this back-and-forth eye-for-an-eye mentality is what’s perpetuating the violence. Hamas fires rockets into civilian locations, Israel fires back against military headquarters, weapons factories, etc., and by doing so, accidentally kills or wounds innocent bystanders; and then Hamas cries that their innocents are dying and says that their dead are martyrs.
On the other side of Israel, in what Westerners call the West Bank, Palestinians are generally less violent. They have a great deal to complain about, such as how the transportation within the West Bank is made much more complicated for Palestinians but not Israelis, or how farmers in the West Bank are not getting enough water because of unfair distribution by Israelis. These complaints are representative of some of the criticisms against Israel, which is as opposed to the violence that is perpetuated by Gaza. However, such level-headed complaints often get overlooked by the violence that tends to justify the concern for the security of Israelis.
Most recently, there was the case of an Israeli man standing at a bus stop in Nablus, in the West Bank, just a few days ago. He was approached by a Palestinian man who stabbed him, took his gun, and then shot him dead. When Israeli soldiers arrived, the man began shooting at them too. The assailant is now in custody.
This attack in the West Bank and the recent Gaza airstrikes come at a time when anti-semitic attacks are being reported in Hungary, days before the capital, Budapest, hosts the World Jewish Congress. Also happening now is a terror trial in Cyprus, which is revealing how meticulously the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah trained their spies to follow and kill Israeli tourists abroad, such as when five Israeli tourists were killed by a bus explosion in Bulgaria last year. Hezbollah is also trying to provoke Israel by sending an unmanned drone to invade their airspace.
And the most damning accusation against Israel was by Iran, claiming that Israel has been using “sorcery” to meddle with Iranian politics and culture, and spreading homosexuality in order to take over the world. As comedian English comedian Russell Howard once said “Oh come on… they’re gays! They’re not ninjas!”
The Children’s Guide to Killing Israelis
It’s no wonder that Israel invests so much in defence. In fact, their presence in the West Bank is largely for security reasons; though if you ask the local Palestinians, it’s to gradually push them all out of the region. As you can imagine, the cyclical violence I have described above means that there is no end in sight. And unfortunately, things are getting worse.
As so many of the articles on this blog end: education is the key. And what Hamas is doing to Gaza schools indicates that things are going to get worse for the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians.
Hamas’ education ministry has recently made two decisions based on their own cultural priorities. The have decided to get rid of sports, and decided to teach Palestinian children how to “fire Kalashnikovs, throw grenades, and plant improvised explosive devices.” The telegraph reports this disturbing development:
The scheme has been criticised by Palestinian human rights groups, who point out that Hamas has previously banned sport from the school curriculum on the grounds that there is not enough time for it.
Hamas authorities introduced the ‘Futuwwa’, or youth programme into the state curriculum last September for 37,000 Palestinian boys aged between 15 and 17, conceiving it as a scheme intended to initiate a new generation of Palestinian men in the struggle against Israel.
Izzadine Mohamed, 17, was among the students who attended the weekly school classes, which covered first aid, basic fire fighting skills and how to fire a Kalashnikov rifle. He was also one of 5,000 boys across Gaza who also signed up for an optional two-week camp held at a Hamas military base.
“I was excited to learn the right way to use a weapon,” said Mr Mohamed. “It’s important because of the occupation. I feel stronger and more confident with the knowledge, which I could use against the occupier.”
At the two-week camp, the boys spent their time dressed in a military-style uniform of black t-shirts and black jeans, and were trained by officers with the Hamas National Guard and militants with Hamas’ armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades.
Mr Mohamed said that as well karate and other street-fighting techniques, they were taught how to throw hand grenades, and how also how to protect themselves if one exploded nearby – “drop flat on the ground next to the grenade, it explodes outwards”.
It’s not like Palestine hasn’t been indoctrinating their children with a unreserved hatred for their opponents – something which is not systematically done in the Israeli education system – but now they are teaching children how to actually attack, capture, and kill Israelis. I used to believe that peace could be achieved in the Middle East, but I can guarantee that it will never be achieved if this is the type of education that Palestine gets. The following video is a news broadcast from Al Jazeera:
One question is very important here: Will this be in the best interest of Palestine? Samar Zakout of the Gaza-based human rights organization Al Mezan says “They are trying to create a resistance culture, make our boys stronger to face Israel, but they shouldn’t be doing it in schools. Maybe Israel will use this as a reason to bomb Gaza’s schools in future.”
The head of the education ministry in Gaza, Mohamed Syam, said that the Futuwwa programme may be introduced to girls’ schools next year, but he insists that “we are not conducting military training in our schools, we are providing information. The youth can join military wings of factions, they don’t need military training at school.”
Just providing information? If the Al Jazeera video didn’t suggest otherwise, the Telegraph mentions a recent video on YouTube which clearly contradicts this statement.
A YouTube clip showing a military demonstration in a Gaza school also appears to contradict the Hamas official line.
Posted on April 5, the video shows a mock Israeli military post erected in a school playground, where Palestinian militants enact a mock battle during which a faux Israeli soldier is killed and another captured. A shoulder-held rocket launcher is then fired at the military post, the force of the blast leaving only a smoking metal frame and a billowing Israeli flag.
Mr Syam said the video, which he claimed not to have seen, was not representative of the new initiative, and that the training course was designed mainly to school Gaza’s youth in discipline and respect. “The military aspect takes up only one per cent of the course,” he said.
In response to these criticisms, Syam also claimed that Israelis have been teaching their youth to kill Arabs. Technically this is true, but it’s not in elementary school or high school… it’s in the Israeli military. The country has only survived this long because it has mandatory military service for all Israelis (except the ultra-orthodox Jews, who are too busy studying fairy tales to work or serve in the military).
The Bottom Line
In the end, I am growing ever more pessimistic about the direction the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is heading. This is such a shame, because the two sides always manage to focus on how different they are from one another rather than see their commonalities.
And all of this violence and turmoil is happening amid an exhibition in the UK that really symbolizes what the Middle East should all be about.
That is, hating Nazis. Obviously.
As the following video shows, a Holocaust exhibition has been called the “righteous Muslims,” who helped Jews at the risk of their own lives and the lives of their families and neighbours.
One of the stories in the video shows how a Muslim family in Bosnia who helped a Jewish family which would survive and move to Israel after WWII. The Muslim family later received help from that same Jewish family many decades later in the Siege of Sarajevo. The now Israeli family contacted the Prime Minister of Israel to help that Muslim family get out of Bosnia safely.
These kinds of stories are remarkably important for both sides to learn, because many people on both sides dehumanize the other, saying things like “they don’t respect life,” or “they are completely different from us.”
But if schools in Gaza don’t even have time for sports… I don’t suppose they’ll ever have time to teach actual important stories like that.