On 12 February, the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers was commemorated to prevent children from being recruited as soldiers and to provide protection for children through the Paris Principles and Commitments. According to UNICEF, an estimated 300,000 children are living in wars and armed conflicts.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with more than 70 years of history, is a clear example where children have become true victims of a past, a present and a scarring future. Among the many clashes that have taken place, a clear example of the victimisation of these children was in 2008-2009. More than 1,200 people were killed in the operation, 30 per cent of whom were Palestinian children. A total of 392 Palestinian children were killed compared to six Israeli children, and a total of 142 Palestinian and two Israeli schools were damaged.
There are broadly two causes for the exploitation of child soldiers as a mechanism in the hands of the Palestinian cause: the oversized strength of the Israeli army and the mechanistic indoctrination of Hamas.
The social and armed dispute between Israelis and Palestinians has turned the south-eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea into a theatre of terror since the brotherly peoples clashed in the time of Abraham. Terrorism has become routine, so much so that a meaningful response system based on the principle of "keeping it simple" has been achieved. Indeed, one of the Israeli Police bomb squad members who has lived through dozens of attacks has a clear vision of how terrorism should be dealt with: "We told ourselves that life goes on, we can't mourn every 3 days when there is an attack. Nor can we put a monument in every place where an attack happens, here when there is a terrorist attack the police come and in two hours everything is as before".
A context of terror
Terror-based power in the Palestinian and Israeli public spheres is devastating. Children, due to their young age and a context of violence, are exposed to a fertile breeding ground for being moulded and influenced by terrorist elites. This is because it is in childhood that we gather most of the information that will later serve us for our survival. Moreover, it has been shown that terror-based education fosters violence and a thirst for revenge, as well as eliminating the personal traits (subhumanisation) of the members of the ex-group, in this case the Israelis.
With "the person" removed, the processes of radicalisation in Hamas children occurs exponentially. Thus, the little soldiers become both victims and perpetrators. The learning of violence to which they are subjected occurs both at the social level (observers) and at the cultural level (the Palestinian cause), thus accentuating the problem.
The military wing of Hamas interprets the use of children as a legitimate tool in its fight against the state of Israel. The radicalisation of young people occurs through a process known as dawa (invitation or call to Islam), which is also used in jihadist indoctrination and which in its higher stages leads to the commission of terrorist attacks.
The indoctrination of child soldiers of Hamas, a terrorist organisation according to the United States and the European Union, begins in primary and pre-school. At various camps, commemorations and graduation ceremonies, children have been seen wearing toy rifles and pretending to get Israeli blood on their hands. The Hamasist campaign has focused in recent years on increasing its 'pedagogical' material through the dawa. This process has been adapted to the Palestinian cause by emphasising the threat posed by Zionism, as well as the duty to avenge martyrs and engage in resistance and intifada.
Anti-Israeli radicalisation starts in schools, homes and the media where Hamas political elites have great influence. Once radicalised, children acquire the status of soldiers when they are recruited as part of the military section, from where they are incited and ordered to commit terrorist attacks.
Studies by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Center have shown how Hamas has recruited, enlisted and involved children as combatants in hostilities, subsequently providing a falsified casualty count to the Gaza authorities and in complete violation of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Israel's oversized force
At the other extreme, the disproportionate use of force and aggression by the Israeli military has been another risk factor for the radicalisation of Palestinian children. From Palestine, testimonies from mothers and children are constantly coming forward expressing their hatred for the excesses they have suffered, while from Israel, testimonies from former combatants have also emerged corroborating the abuses perpetrated by the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) against the Palestinian population.
Palestinian children, in addition to Hamasist indoctrination, are often indirect victims of the murder of their family members (parents or siblings), curfews and onslaughts by Israeli forces. In short, collective punishment according to Amnesty International.
The interrelation of these radical experiences is a breeding ground for the construction of an identity based on a violent reality that in turn allows for the radicalisation and subsequent conversion of Palestinian children into Hamas child soldiers.
A final aspect to consider is the counter-radicalisation of Israeli children caused by; widespread anxiety that they may become victims of further suicide bombings, living under discriminatory law enforcement and the fact that there are Israeli communities that continue to be educated in a racist anti-Arab context.
Some of these children were born and raised in the context of the 50-day war between Hamas and Israel. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinians that led to the outbreak of the war, having to live under an "Iron Dome" missile shield and other factors associated with the conflict, are circumstances that may be encouraging the radicalisation of young settlers.
However, since they do not wear these military uniforms and rifles, media attention is virtually non-existent. Few organisations analyse the situation of Israel's children, and those that fortunately do, such as the NGO Humanium, do not focus on the problems posed by the counter-radicalisation of small settlers.
Many of the attacks in Israel in recent years have been perpetrated by Hamas, which has increased rejectionism and created two parallel realities, that of the small Israeli settlers and Hamas child soldiers.
Yet, in spite of all that has been argued, people continue to write about the issue, deducing polarised truisms. Regardless of the different opinions that may arise on the issue, common sense demands that the problem no longer be treated in a black and white dichotomy.
The positions regarding the victimisation of Palestinian children show how both the Spanish media (with a pro-Palestinian stance marked by history) and Spanish entities with a marked pro-Israeli character tend to simplify the problem by seeing the speck in someone else's eye, and not the log in their own.
When in reality it is an amalgam of greys where both sides of the coin, in addition to sharing the solution, would be favouring the radicalisation of Hamas's child soldiers.
In 2021, for the first time in 15 years, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel were to hold legislative elections a few months apart. Could these have been a turning point? For the moment, they have been held in Israel and Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party, has re-established itself as the country's main party. So it is unlikely that there will be any changes on the Israeli front, given the enormous difficulties in forming a government.
In Palestine, however, Mahmoud Abbas recently postponed the elections, citing Israeli obstacles to voting in East Jerusalem. Hamas has described the decision to delay the elections as a "coup d'état". For all these reasons, we will have to wait and see what happens on the Palestinian political scene, if Hamas finally takes a back seat when the long-awaited elections are held, and if the use of weapons ceases to harm the interests of Palestinian children.