Hamas defends its military summer camps for children and teenagers

At a press conference launching the Vanguard of Liberation camps, a spokesperson for Hamas defended the group’s use of children at its military summer camp on Saturday.

“The Al-Qassam Brigades has organized the Vanguard of Liberation camps for over ten years, as it believes that the youth have a significant role and that it has a responsibility towards the generation that all sides are trying to tempt and divert their attention from their cause and priorities,” the spokesperson stated.

Citing United Nations resolution 45/130, the spokesperson stated the group was guaranteed under international law to self-defense, including the use of armed resistance.

“What we are doing in these camps is, like all the peoples who are, and were, under occupation and persecution, where international law guarantees them the right to self-determination, self-defense, and resisting the occupier by all means available, including armed resistance under United Nations General Assembly resolution 45/130,” the spokesperson added.

Groups such as al-Qassam Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have openly recruited children to its summer camps in previous years and published documentation of their military training via their Telegram channels.

A recent publication by Palestinian Islamic Jihad showed youth training how to abduct an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier. Additionally, the publication showed Palestinians who appear to be as young as ten years old, despite the group’s recruitment poster stating it was accepting teenagers between the ages of fourteen and seventeen.

FDD’s Long War Journal has tracked the use of child militants by Palestinian groups such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Mujahideen Brigades.

Other groups, such as Hezbollah, have established a youth movement over three decades ago called the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts who train children how to use weapons and indoctrinate them into the group’s ideology.

Additionally, Ansarallah – commonly known as the Houthis – has been documented using children in their conflict against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

It appears Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are not worried about a public backlash, particularly from Western countries, for training children as young as ten. The Hamas press conference was done in English, which is rare, and likely targeted a Western audience. It is possible Hamas had some concern about their image abroad, and aimed to explain why they were giving children and teenagers military training.

Despite what Hamas or any other Palestinian group states, the camps are not an investment in the future of Gaza’s youth or a Palestinian state, but one of preservation of the militant group’s power, and the build up of military strength to continue waging jihad against Israel.

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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