Worldwide, children are used in war. According to one agency which works specifically with such children, an estimated 300,000 boys and girls are currently trained for combat or used as porters, spies or sex slaves around the world (“Child soldiers, International Rescue Committee” Homepage, children@ the IRC, org).
To fight the use of child warriors, the United Nations has created the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Factsheet: child soldiers, UNICEF). This Protocol makes it illegal to use children under the age of 18 in combat (ibid). In addition, the Statute of the International Criminal Court makes it a war crime to conscript, enlist or use children under 15 in hostilities by national armed forces or armed groups (ibid).
While there appears to be an inconsistency here (above) with regard to what age is illegal for war, the UN has at least started the process of making children in war illegal. One step in this direction is a definition UNICEF has created. Read this definition carefully, because you’ll need it to understand how Hamas and Fatah treat their children.
The definition: For the purposes of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, UNICEF defines a ‘child soldier’ as any child – boy or girl – under 18 years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity [emphasis mine], including, but not limited to: cooks, porters, messengers, and anyone accompanying such groups other than family members. It includes girls and boys recruited for forced sexual purposes and/or forced marriage. The definition, therefore, does not only refer to a child who is carrying, or has carried, weapons [emphasis mine] (ibid).
Keep in mind that International law, under Additional Protocol 1, 1977, states that all parties in a conflict “must take all feasible measures in order that children who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities and, in particular, they must refrain from recruiting them into their armed forces [my emphasis] (“Summary Tables of IHL provisions specifically applicable to children,” ICRC, March 31, 2003).
Now, let’s look at the Palestinian Authority. The information below comes from the website, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW). PMW is an “Israeli research institute that studies Palestinian society from a broad range of perspectives by monitoring and analyzing the Palestinian Authority through its media and schoolbooks. PMW’s major focus is on the messages that the Palestinian leaders, from the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas, send to the population through the broad range of institutions and infrastructures they control (Homepage, “About Us”, PMW).
In 2015, Hamas has already posted on its Facebook page a poster of a child, perhaps 6 or 7 years old, dressed in full combat gear, including assault rifle, with the caption, ‘we bring your kids up ‘on love of Jihad and Martyrdom-death’ (Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “Hamas: We bring our kids up “on love of Jihad and Martyrdom-death”", April 14, 2015)
In February, 2015, the Fatah-run Awdah TV broadcast an event held in honor of the Lion Cubs and Flowers Institution (Fatah Youth Institution) in Jenin. The Fatah Secretary in Jenin, Ata Abu Rmeileh, spoke openly of using children as soldiers in hostilities. He praised young Palestinian boys who fired RPGs at Israeli tanks during the first Lebanon war in 1982; he described how girls and boys in the Jenin refugee camp, and all around the homeland, had manufactured simple Palestinian hand grenades [and] fought the occupation (“Fatah leader in Jenin: Youth must “continue walking the path of the Martyrs”, February 12, 2015).
In April, 2015, Fatah posted on its Facebook page a music video featuring a child singer dressed military uniform going through a training program like adult soldiers, and brandishing different weapons ( Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “ Child soldier promotes violence in Fatah video”, PMW, May 31, 2015).
These samples are just the tip of an ugly iceberg. They show that children have participated as combatants (a war crime); they have served as recruitment tools to glorify combat (a possible war crime); they strutted about carrying weapons (a war crime); and they have been shown training as a soldier (a war crime).
IHL is clear: children under the age of 18 (or, in some instances, age 15) are not to serve a military purpose “in any capacity” (above). Nevertheless, both Hamas and Fatah actively glorify children as combatants, and actively train children as combatants.
Using children as tools of war is despicable. It’s depraved. But it’s also the ‘Palestinian’ way.