Tzemach Yehudah Richter
Feb 19, 2021, 7:49 AM
It’s a familiar story. Ahmed Mansara, 13, and his cousin Hassan Mansara, 15, went on a stabbing spree in Pisgat Ze’ev. They injured two civilians, one a boy their age, before they were stopped. Ahmed was injured and Hassan killed. It’s just one story among countless terrorist attacks, battles, and riots in which Palestinian children served on the frontline. It’s not hard to see the pattern. There is a system that has been constructed by Hamas, the PA, and other authoratative Palestinian organizations that creates and uses child soldiers. Yet despite this system of child militancy being so flagrant, human rights organizations refuse to acknowledge it. They don’t care that Palestinian children are being used as soldiers. They don’t care for the same reason that PFLP or Hamas uses them: They’re useful.
The Paris Principles defines child soldiers as anyone under 18 that is used by an armed force, state or non-state, in any military capacity. The term child soldier is not limited to direct combatants, but also other positions that contribute to the military objective, such as cooks, messengers, spies, and porters. The use of children for warfare is abhorrent for many reasons. Children lack the ability to give informed consent, to take responsibility for themselves, to understand their best interests and pursue them in a reasonable fashion. Consequently, we generally do not let them wed, vote, and to imbibe certain substances. Child soldiers lack the capacity to fully understand why they are fighting. It cannot be considered a consensual decision. They do not understand what it means to take a life, the sanctity and irreplaceability of the light snuffed out, and how it may weigh on their soul in the future. They do not foresee the consequences of their actions, what will happen to their families, and themselves, as a result of combat. Death is not the only thing that can happen to a soldier. Therefore, to force or encourage children to fight others, to kill civilians in an act of terrorism, to unknowingly risk life and limb, is one of the worst forms of child abuse. Almost as bad is to enable it. Which is exactly what the international human rights regime is doing by ignoring and even facilitating systemic Palestinian child militancy.
The system of Palestinian child militancy is extensive. Palestinian kids are educated, trained, activated, and recruited in many ways. School textbooks and lessons engage in militarization, radicalization, and racism to prime children for combat operations. Kids are taught to aspire to jihad and martyrdom, and are even given examples in math and sciences like those about launching stones at soldiers. Posters, songs, poems and memes extol child soldiers, pressuring kids to join their ranks. They are deployed through public commands by Palestinian authorities calling for them to take action through violence. This has led directly to waves of stabbing attacks by teens, which is openly supported and praised by terrorist organizations. Teens that are arrested, injured, or killed in the course of terrorism are paid a bounty under pay-for-slay policies. It is well known that these policies exist, creating a state of open-ended recruitment for lone-wolf cub terrorists.
There is also more direct organization of these children. While the education and propaganda system encourages Palestinian kids to engage in rock-throwing and other violent actions of their own accord, kids are also utilized in organized mass riots. Children are sent to the frontlines to throw stones, pipe bombs, and Molotov cocktails. They also act as human shields, protecting adult perpetrators as they operate.
Then there are the more overt military operations. Palestinian child soldiers are relied on for transportation of weapons, and in the case of IEDs, their placement. They are used as lookouts to spot approaching IDF forces, and messengers between cells. At least nine minors have been killed in cave-ins while digging terrorist tunnels, though it is difficult to ascertain just how many have been killed in this fashion. It is likely that there are many more child tunnel diggers than those killed. Hamas doesn’t run a very transparent operation. However, researchers do uncover many of the under-age combat soldiers they enlist and send into battle. Some of those that are killed, like 15-year-old Wasim Rida Salhia, are revealed through casualty counts. The stories of these child soldiers, like the Mansaras, are well documented. Palestinian Child Soldier Week’s official Twitter account lists them out by name, age, action, and consequence. There are dozens of additional ways child soldiers have been used by Palestinian terrorist organizations, and each violation is worth an exploration in an article in its own right. Given the amount of documentation, human right organizations should be working hard on dismantling the Palestinian child militancy system. Given all the talk of the ICC and war crimes, one would be forgiven in thinking that this issue was at the forefront. Instead those that claim to champion human rights have chosen to ignore the problem, letting it flourish.
UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, and other groups claim that they have not been able to identify the use of child soldiers by Palestinian organizations. When it comes to Palestinian child militancy, they hide behind stricter definitions and greater burdens of proof for violations than they hold for other parties. Even in the same conflict, they do not hold such high standards of evidence for alleged Israeli actions. An example of their evasiveness, as detailed by Palestinian Media Watch, is how UNICEF refused to consider the paying of children to throw Molotov cocktails and transport weapons recruitment, because they could not verify exactly which party was doing the recruiting. Recruitment was happening, but it actually wasn’t recruiting because UNICEF couldn’t see the child soldier payslips from Hamas. Similarly, human rights NGO reports are full of complaints about deaths, injuries, and arrest of minors, but they conveniently leave out why these tragedies occur. These are consequences of the use of child soldiers. Acknowledging this inconvenient truth would complicate the bottom line of their reports, and would interfere with their interests.
There are many reasons why this failure is happening. For one, the employees of human rights groups are not impartial arbiters that apply a set of objective principles of human rights fairly to all. They are political activists, acting according to their interests. Take Omar Shakir, a BDS activist that works for Human Rights Watch. When his visa was rejected because of his BDS activity, he used the shield of his HRW position to claim that he was being rejected due to his human rights work. To these actors, their political activity and human rights work are not just indistinguishable in practice, the legitimacy of the latter is cover for the former. BDS seeks the dissolution of the state of Israel, making common cause with the very organizations that maintain the system of child militancy. BDS’ strength is not as an economic power, but as a public diplomacy force slowly altering perceptions of foreign publics through simple emotional narratives. Dead children are a powerful tool for BDS activists, and one they use with relish. It is difficult to argue with a raw number of minors killed, injured, or arrested. If one does, then they’re accused of hating Palestinian children. It requires additional research to reveal that the cases in question are largely connected to riots, terrorism, or combat. Few check, many accept the numbers at face value. It is therefore in the political interest of BDS activists in human rights organization to ignore child militancy, and to instead continue to load their BDS kits with the bodies of Palestinian child soldiers.
Many of these human rights organizations also have overt ties to terrorist groups. According to NGO-Monitor, The Palestinian Center for Human Rights had several employees that moonlighted as PFLP operatives. An organization that has terrorist operatives within its ranks is unlikely to report child soldier violations by their terrorist organization. It is not just employees that guide policy, but donors as well. Groups like Amnesty International and HRW are not transparent about their funding. Despite claiming that they receive no government funding, both have been shown to receive funding from various governments. Further, in 2012 HRW accepted private funding on the condition that they would not do work on LGBT rights in the Middle East. We can’t expect that their government and other private donations don’t come with strings attached as well. Given the obsessive focus on Israel, and the way important issues like Palestinian child soldiers are ignored, its not unreasonable to suspect that there have been other missions and conditions placed on these organizations. There are few propaganda pieces for attacking your geopolitical enemies better than the claim they are murdering children. For their blatant pursuit of political, personal, and monetary interests, human rights organizations can no longer be trusted unquestionably when it comes to issues like Palestinian child soldiers.
Palestinian child soldiers are useful. In life, terrorists use them to physically strike Israelis in battle, terrorism, and riots. In death, they are used by dishonest NGOs for political propaganda that satisfies their donors and staff. The real losers of this deal are Palestinian children.
February 14th-19th is Palestinian Child Soldier Week 2021. It is as good a time as any to call for an end to this system of abuse. We must call for reform, both of the system of Palestinian child militancy, and the international regime of politically corrupt human rights NGOs that enables it.