Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
No. 647 June 28, 2021
This article is part of the forthcoming Jerusalem Center research report: The Gaza War 2021: The Iranian and Hamas Attack on Israel.
- As recognized by international law, Israel has the legal right to employ the force necessary to defend itself. President Biden, on May 16, 2021, “reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza.”
- From a young age, Palestinian children are indoctrinated by the Palestinian leadership to seek death through war. For example, the daughter of a Hamas official was recorded saying, “If we die, we will die as Martyrs for the sake of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa.” Such indoctrination is reinforced in summer camps for children and culminates in the conscription of children into military units, in direct violation of international humanitarian law.
- In the course of the 11-day conflict, from May 10 to May 21, 2021, Hamas launched 4,300 rockets at Israeli civilians in a blatant violation of international humanitarian law, which calls to protect civilian populations during military operations. Article 25 of the 1907 Hague Regulations specifically prohibits attacks or bombardment of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings that are undefended.
- Hamas unapologetically uses its own civilians as human shields, unconcerned with the fatal ramifications of its actions. British Colonel Richard Kemp designated Hamas as “the first ‘army’ in history to use their own civilian populations as a primary weapon of war.” On May 12, 2021, UN Special Coordinator Tor Wennesland told the UN Security Council, “Hamas and other militants’ indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars from highly populated civilian neighborhoods into civilian population centers in Israel violates international humanitarian law, is unacceptable, and has to stop immediately.”
- Israel makes a concerted effort to limit civilian casualties. The IDF engages in the practice of “roof knocking” to warn civilians prior to an attack on Hamas targets. In addition, before Israeli attacks, civilians receive phone calls advising them to evacuate. Israeli drones watch from above, and attacks are permitted only after it is confirmed that the building has been evacuated.
- Hamas demonstrates no respect for international humanitarian law designed to protect innocent civilians. Therefore, it is vital that Hamas be held accountable for its illegal actions in international forums and international courts of law. Without doing so, there will be no justice for those who have suffered from the grave human rights abuses committed by Hamas.
Rules of Law
As recognized by the international community, Israel has the legal right to defend itself under international law. When confronted with threats by Hamas to Israel’s citizens and national security, it is well within Israel’s right to employ the force necessary to defend itself.
U.S. President Joe Biden reiterated this sentiment on May 16, 2021, when he “reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza, and condemned these indiscriminate attacks against Israel.”1
During a debate on a one-sided resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on May 27, 2021, several speakers said, “the indiscriminate barrage of rockets fired by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad into Israel were completely unacceptable.”2
Despite international law justifying Israel’s self-defense efforts, Israel continues to come under fire from international organizations. On March 3, 2021, the International Criminal Court, which launched a war crimes probe into the 2014 Gaza War, concluded, “The Court may exercise its criminal jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine, and that the territorial scope of this jurisdiction extends to Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”3The “State of Palestine” became a member of ICC and the Assembly of States Parties in the ICC in January 2015, while Israel is not a member state.4
The Use of Child Soldiers
One large group victimized by Hamas is Palestinian children. From a young age, Palestinian children are indoctrinated by the Palestinian leadership. Hamas-controlled media encourage young viewers to seek death through war and violence or become martyrs by sacrificing their lives for Jerusalem. Their young age and naïveté leave children vulnerable to the influence of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic language, indoctrinating them to resort to violence.
For example, the daughter of Hamas’ Ministry of Internal Affairs’ spokesman Iyad Al-Buzum, Lama, was recorded saying, “If we die, we will die as Martyrs for the sake of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa,” insisting that Israel “will be destroyed” – evidence of the tenor of Hamas’ media campaigns.5
Additionally, Palestinian leaders use social media to share videos of child fighters, encouraging other Palestinian children to follow their lead. On February 17, 2020, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party shared a video produced by Gaza TV Media with a child soldier speaking about his desire to “shoot Jews” and “die for Jerusalem,” encouraging followers to “share the video.”6
Hamas also uses children’s imagery to garner support for their cause, as exemplified by the viral photograph of Yahya Sinwar holding a child, the son of a dead Hamas fighter, who is holding a rifle.
Much of the indoctrination of Palestinian children takes place during summer camps run by armed groups like the al-Qassam Brigades7 and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s Saraya al-Quds,8 which aim to instill Islamist values and military training in children. Promotional videos and advertisements entice young children to register for these camps, culminating in the conscription of children into military units.
What International Law Says
The 2007 Paris “Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups”10define a “child soldier” as any person below the age of 18 who has been recruited or used by an armed group in any capacity, not just a child who has taken direct action in hostilities. By this internationally accepted definition, Palestinian children in Hamas’ summer camps and those brainwashed by armed groups through other media all fit into the category of “child soldiers.”
Hamas’ indoctrination of children has fatal consequences: many Palestinian children engage in violence against Israel, which often results in casualties. Such was the case with Samah Mubarak, 16, who was killed after she attempted to stab an Israeli security officer in 2019.11 Both Nihad Raed Muhammad Waked and Fouad Marwan Khaled Waked, both 15, were killed after opening fire at IDF soldiers in 2016.12
Both the Use of Child Soldiers and The Indoctrination of Youth by Hamas Violate International Human Rights Law
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court13 stipulates:
- Article 8(b)(xxvi) considers the conscription or enlisting of children into the armed forces a war crime.
The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child14 includes:
- Articles 28 and 29, which refer to the right of the child to an education.
- Article 36, which protects the child against all forms of exploitation.
- Article 38(2), which prohibits children under the age of 15 from directly engaging in hostilities.
- The 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict “exists to strive for the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.”15
- Article 1 prohibits the conscription of children under 18 into the armed forces.
Various international campaigns, such as UNICEF’s “Children, Not Soldiers”16and the Coalition to Save Palestinian Child Soldiers,17 were created to campaign against the use of child soldiers in conflict.
Hamas’ control of the media means that much of the reporting coming out of Gaza is unreliable. Some journalists in Gaza report threats by Hamas if they film certain content, such as Hamas firing rockets. [See a compilation of threats to journalists, including a Spanish journalist’s admission, “If ever we dare pointing our camera on (rocket teams) they would simply shoot at us and kill us.”18] This inability to report the news objectively contributes to an overall lack of transparency regarding events in Gaza, often leading to one-sided and misinformed reporting.
In addition to facilitating the spread of false news and promoting widespread media bias against Israel, Hamas is in violation of freedoms of the press and speech. Censorship and misinformation hide the truth, and only the occasional testimonies of journalists and activists regarding their experiences reveal the extent of the limitations to freedom of speech and freedom of the press under Hamas.
To control the media, Hamas resorts to arbitrary arrests of journalists and activists. In April 2017, Hamas arrested 17 activists and journalists and charged them with “spreading false rumors and news through social networking sites,”19despite their denying such charges.
Gazan journalist Ahmed Said recalled that Hamas police spokesman Ayman Al Batnihi told him after his arrest that Said was “causing us many problems and inciting people. I know how to deal with people. You need to be hanged.”20
The New York Times Was Not Harassed by Hamas
Bias in the media is seen in major international news sources. On May 28, 2021, the New York Times published a front-page spread containing 65 pictures of children supposedly killed during the 2021 Gaza War. This article, clearly designed with an anti-Israel agenda, was based on misinformation, some obtained from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry or the terrorist-affiliated NGO, Defense for Children International-Palestine.21 On May 10, 2021, at least nine of the children pictured were killed when errant Hamas rockets fell short of reaching Israel and hit Gazan civilians.22Overall, 680 Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets fell on Gaza.23 On May 13, 2021, the IDF published a video documenting a Hamas rocket falling on Gaza.24 In addition to the children, the Gazans killed by Palestinian rocket fire included ten men and two women.25
Moreover, some of the children pictured by the Times were actually terrorist operatives. For example, Muhammad Suleiman,16, a member of Hamas’ Qassam Brigades, was killed with his father, Tsabar, a Hamas commander, on May 10, 2021.