Palestinian Terror Groups Recruit Children at Militant 'Summer Camps'

International legal group demands UNICEF stop Hamas war crimes

Hamas (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)
July 9, 2021

Palestinian terror groups recruit and train children to serve as soldiers through summer camps established in the Gaza Strip, prompting outrage from an international legal group that has documented the camps and accuses the militant groups of war crimes.

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the leading Palestinian terror groups operating in Gaza, have established several of these summer camps to train children for the next war with Israel. The terror organizations are using the May conflict with Israel, the worst violence in years, to motivate registration. At least 50,000 children have already signed up, according to regional reports, which quote Hamas officials as saying the summer camps are part of an "effort to prepare the youth" for war with Israel.

Pictures of the summer camps posted on social media and codified by the International Legal Forum, a consortium of more than 3,000 lawyers and activists in 40 countries, show children as young as 14 training with weapons and older militant fighters. The forum is calling on UNICEF, the U.S.-funded United Nations charity tasked with taking care of children in the region, to stop Hamas and PIJ from recruiting more children.

While Hamas and PIJ have been running militant summer camps for years, the issue has seen renewed focus in the light of Israel's most recent war with the terror groups, in which Gazan children died on the battlefield. Western media outlets, including the New York Times, accused Israel of targeting children during the war, but it later became clear that Hamas and PIJ placed kids on the battlefield so that they could be wounded or killed. Both terror groups have a history of using children as shields to make it look like Israel recklessly murdered children.

"Some of the civilian casualties in Gaza during the recent May 2021 conflict were child soldiers recruited and forced to fight for the Palestinian terror groups," the International Legal Forum disclosed in a letter sent to UNICEF last week and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "Hamas and PIJ bear direct responsibility for the deaths of these Palestinian children as well." The group is demanding that UNICEF take immediate steps to shut down these camps and protect children in Gaza from being recruited.

"It is incumbent upon UNICEF to act immediately and without reservation to prevent the continuation of such unconscionable atrocities and abuse of children in Gaza, as well as to hold Palestinian terror groups Hamas and PIJ, accountable for these heinous crimes," the organization wrote in the July 1 letter.

UNICEF has yet to respond to the International Legal Forum's letter. It did not respond to Free Beacon requests for comment. The United States Agency for International Development, which funds UNICEF with taxpayer dollars, declined to comment on the situation.

Arsen Ostrovsky, chairman and CEO of the International Legal Forum, said UNICEF's ongoing failure to act under pressure is an "unconscionable dereliction of duty in its central mission to protect and defend children's rights."

The forum petitioned UNICEF to open an investigation into the recruitment of these children, which they say violates international law and constitutes a war crime.

Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the Treasury Department, said there is "a steady pipeline of teenage kids in Gaza" being funneled into the terrorist summer camps, which not only train children to fight but also indoctrinate them in militant ideology that calls for Israel's destruction.

"Hamas also recruits even younger children to charge the fence with Israel, putting them in the sights of the Israelis, who must defend their border," said Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a national security think tank. "All of this should be seen as war crimes. And this does not even include the tunnels and other military infrastructure that Hamas builds under and around schools. In short, it's not easy or safe to be a child under Hamas rule."