Islamic Jihad Begins Military Summer Camp for Palestinian Youth

On June 10, mosques operated by Islamic Jihad held open registration for Palestinian youth to attend military training camps in the Gaza Strip. The camp is called “Revenge of the Free,” which is the name given by Islamic Jihad to the latest conflict with Israel in May 2023. According to Islamic Jihad, the camp started on June 12 and will last for two weeks.

Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, including other militant organizations have held summer camps for more than ten years in Gaza, often publishing propaganda videos showing children undergoing military training.

While Palestinian militant organizations often tout the camps as a place to promote religious and recreational activities for children and teens, they are primarily used to indoctrinate jihadist ideology, including the armed struggle against Israel. Also, the camps are a promotional tool for Palestinian youth to join armed militant organizations, some of whom are classified as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government. FDD’s Long War Journal has tracked the recruitment of children by Palestinian armed groups such as HamasPalestinian Islamic Jihad, and Mujahideen Brigades.

Despite the camps drawing criticism, Palestinian militant organizations continue to organize them yearly. The indifference to the condemnation was evident during the opening ceremony of a Hamas-run summer camp in 2021. Citing United Nations resolution 45/130, a Hamas spokesperson stated the group is guaranteed under international law to self-defense, including 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 stated.

Actors such as Hezbollah and the Houthis also target children and teenagers for potential recruitment. For example, in 1985, Hezbollah established a youth organization called the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts Association, which is often used as a stepping stone to join its so-called military wing. Mahdi scouts receive military training, are indoctrinated in “greater jihad,” and are taught about the armed struggle against Israel.

Much like their Resistance Axis counterparts in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen holds yearly summer camps under the guise of educating children on religious teachings and identity. Critics say the camps “radicalize and indoctrinate minors so that they can prepare them to become soldiers.”

Other armed organizations, such as the Turkistan Islamic Party, have been accused of training children in military camps in northwestern Syria. In 2016, the Islamic State in Afghanistan established military training camps for children to wage jihad.

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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