The Hamas government in Gaza celebrated the graduation on Monday of paramilitary camps geared at training high-school children “to follow in the footsteps of the suicide martyrs.”
The camps, titled “the pioneers of liberation,” are run by Hamas’s ministries of education and interior. Some 13,000 students in grades 10-12 participated in the one-week training camps this year, compared to 5,000 last year when the program was launched, Israeli sources with knowledge of the program said.
The corps of instructors consists mainly of active members of Hamas’s security forces, and the curriculum includes weapons training, first aid, self defense, marching exercises and “security awareness” classes on identifying Israeli spies.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Interior Minister Fathi Hammad and Education Minister Usama Mzeini attended the graduation ceremony on Monday, each delivering fiery speeches stressing the importance of military training in developing a new generation of Palestinian combatants.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (center) attends the graduation ceremony in Gaza, January 13, 2014 (photo credit: Hamas interior ministry website)
“Beware this generation,” Haniyeh said, addressing Israel. “This is a generation which knows no fear. It is the generation of the missile, the tunnel and the suicide operations.”
The Hamas prime minister added that female trainers are also on staff “to oversee the training of the young women to follow in the footsteps of the female suicide operatives.”
Hammad, the interior minister, said the training was in preparation for the coming war with Israel.
“This generation is a sapling from God on earth. It will harvest the enemies of God and be the pride of all nations,” he said.
Hamdi Shaqura, deputy director of program affairs at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based watchdog, said that his organization issued no statement on the training.
“To the best of my knowledge no other organization in Gaza issued a statement either,” he told The Times of Israel.
A child practices shooting at the ‘pioneers of liberation’ camp in Gaza (photo credit: Hamas interior ministry website)
Omar Dawabha, an eleventh-grader who took part in the training, was quoted on the website of Hamas’s interior ministry saying that “he learned how to safeguard our rights and principles.” Another student, Mohammed Abu Nar, addressed the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem at the graduation ceremony.
“We are the pioneers of liberation, we are coming to purify you from the Zionists,” he said.
Elhanan Miller is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel