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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Children on the Frontlines:
Palestinian and Pakistani Child Abuse

Filed under: Hamas, International Law, Israel, Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Israeli Security, Palestinians, Peace Process, Radical Islam, South East Asia, Terrorism

“Armed groups … should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.”

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

These noble words, have unfortunately been disregarded by terrorist groups the world over. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Palestinian/Israeli and Kashmiri conflicts where Palestinian and Pakistani terrorist organizations exploit children with alarming frequency. Child suicide bombers have become a matter of course; teenage gun smuggling is now the norm. Using these conflicts as a basis, the author analyzes the phenomenon of ‘children on the frontlines.’ He compares the trauma suffered by India and especially Israel, and hopes that through an understanding of mutual suffering, these countries can learn from each other and benefit from corroboration on a host of issues, leading eventually to the eradication of this most heinous of crimes. 


On April 19, 2000, 17 year-old Afaq Ahmed Shah got into a vehicle filled with explosives and drove to the Indian Army command center in Srinagar, Kashmir. Stopped by guards at the entrance, the teenager detonated a bomb inside the car, wounding four people. He was the first homicide bomberof the Kashmiri conflict2.

In June of 2002, a 16 year-old Palestinian boy by the name of Issa Bdir was dispatched by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to Rishon Letzion, a suburb of Tel Aviv. His hair dyed blond so as to appear European, he entered a crowded pedestrian mall packed with elderly people and foreign workers and blew himself up, killing two Israelis (including one teenager), and wounding over 30 others. Bdir became the youngest person at the time ever to complete a suicide mission in Israel.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. This disturbing practice of deadly child abuse is on the rise in these two Muslim societies. Recent events in both the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent have made the magnitude of the problem that much more acute. In the summer of 2005, Israel unilaterally disengaged from the Gaza Strip hoping that it would lead to a more peaceful relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, the Palestinians chose to intensify the conflict with an overwhelming vote for the terrorist organization, Hamas, in the January 2006 Palestinian Authority (PA) elections. Hamas assumed power in the Palestinian territories, and brazenly escalated the crisis by launching thousands of Qassam rockets into Israeli towns and kibbutzim and kidnapping Israeli soldiers. This deliberate provocation sparked a new wave of violence that quickly spread to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the Shiite terror group, Hezbollah, had made frequent attacks and incursions into Israel, resulting in the 2006 Lebanon War.

Similarly, the train bombings in Mumbai4, India, which killed over 200 people, have reignited hostilities in the region. Mumbai police Commissioner A.N. Roy said an intensive investigation revealed that Pakistan’s top spy agency had “masterminded” the bombings. Roy said Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) began planning the attacks in March 2006 and later provided training to the perpetrators. “The terror plot was ISI sponsored and executed by Lashkar-e-Tayyaba operatives with help from the Students Islamic Movement of India [a banned Indian Islamic group].” At the time of writing, 15 people have been arrested, including 11 Pakistanis.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s recent assassination, and the political turmoil that preceded and followed, illustrates the deadly reach of Islamist terrorism. Bhutto, a leader of the political opposition, was campaigning for election on a platform which portrayed herself as the only candidate who was able to deal with the militant Islamists. Significantly militant Islam targets victims inside Pakistan as well as in adjoining India and disputed Kashmir.

Muslim terrorist organizations that recruit Palestinian and Pakistani teenagers, sometimes against their will, reason that children are less likely to be intercepted by security forces before they carry out their deadly missions. In both conflicts, the value of a child’s life has become subject to the aspirations of militant Islam and militant nationalism. And while the recruitment and indoctrination of Muslim children to engage in terrorism and armed conflict in Indian Kashmir has not reached the unprecedented levels of the second Intifada, both nations have experienced first-hand the threat that the ‘cult of martyrdom’ poses to democracies worldwide. In fact, persons living in any region where militant Islam has declared a Jihad should be wary of this threat, and can learn from the experiences of these two stalwarts in the fight against radical Islam.

Since the establishment of formal ties between India and Israel 15 years ago, their relationship has become economically, culturally, and strategically essential. Professor Harsh V. Pant points out that: There has been a steady strengthening of India’s relationship with Israel ever since India established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992. A flourishing Indo-Israeli relationship has the potential to make a significant impact on global politics by altering the balance of power, not only in South Asia and the Middle East, but also in the larger Asian region.

Indeed, Israel has become India’s second largest military supplier, and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is behind dozens of contracts and upgrades India even purchases USD $900 million in arms from Israel annually.

It is surprising then that Israelis are for the most part, largely ignorant of the events in Kashmir vis-à-vis the use of child suicide bombers, something that Israelis are all too aware of at home. Indians are also unaware of the similarly troubling direction taken by the Palestinians.

Child Martyrs: Welcoming Death

From the outset of the second Intifada, Palestinian children and teenagers assumed an integral role. In the early months, children acted as decoys, burning tires and shooting slingshots to attract the television cameras, often making it harder for viewers to identify the gunmen lying in ambush. Knowing that the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are ordered not to shoot live ammunition at children, Palestinian snipers hid among and behind the groups of youngsters, on rooftops, in alleys or orchards, often using kids as shields when aiming at exposed IDF soldiers.

As the Intifada intensified, Palestinian children and teenagers became more directly involved in terror attacks, especially suicide bombings. On March 30, 2002, Ayat Akhras, a 16 year-old Palestinian girl, walked into a Jerusalem supermarket and detonated a bomb hidden under her clothing, killing two Israelis and wounding 22 others. In May 2002, a 16 year-old Palestinian boy was arrested at an IDF roadblock near Jenin with a suicide bomb on his body. On June 13, 2002, a 15 year-old Palestinian girl, arrested for throwing a firebomb at IDF soldiers, admitted during interrogation that she had previously been recruited as a suicide terrorist. Finally, on March 24, 2004, 14 year-old Hussam Abdu was caught at an IDF roadblock with an explosive belt wrapped around his chest. He told investigators that he had been paid 100 shekels (approximately USD $25) to carry out a suicide bombing.

With the IDF’s successful Operation Defensive Shield9, and the building of the Security Fence separating Israel from the Palestinian populated areas of the West Bank10 , the number of suicide attacks has dramatically decreased. However, children are still being employed in other areas of terrorist activity. They carry ammunition and explosives or are left behind to trigger booby-traps that terrorists set for troops.11 In January 2003, two Palestinian teenagers, brothers 14 and 17, infiltrated the community of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip, armed with knives. They attacked a Jewish boy, entered a house and were shot. The brothers were apprehended by the IDF and hospitalized with light injuries.

In 2004 the involvement of minors in Palestinian terror reached a new low when an 11 year-old boy was caught as he unwittingly tried to transport a bag holding a 7-to-10 kilogram (15-22 pounds) bomb past an Israeli military roadblock. The young ‘mule’ had been hired by the Fatah Tanzim terrorist organization, affiliated with the late Yasser Arafat. The terrorists had two equally appalling scenarios in mind. If the bomb was successfully smuggled past the roadblock, it would have been given to a suicide bomber and used to launch a deadly attack somewhere in Israel. Alternatively, if the boy was caught, his dispatchers had intended to blow him up along with the soldiers at the roadblock by detonating the explosive charge via a cell phone detonator. Fortunately, due to a technical glitch, the bomb failed to go off and the terrorist plot was foiled.12 

Although some elements in Palestinian society oppose using children, or at least their own children, in what they euphemistically call ‘martyrdom’ operations, these voices remain isolated. Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, also know as Abu Mazen, criticized the tactics of Palestinian organizations in Gaza. Abbas told a Kuwaiti newspaper interviewer in June 2002 (before he became President of the PA), “I am against little children going out to die. It is a terrible thing. At least 40 children in Rafah [in the Gaza Strip] lost an arm from the throwing of Bangalore torpedoes [a form of pipe bomb]. They received five shekels [approximately USD $1] in order to throw them.”13 

Pakistani children are also used as spies, porters and guerrillas, who throw grenades and plant IEDs. The children (some barely 9 or 10-years old) are similarly used as shields in encounters and deployed in operations against Indian security agencies. Children can earn as much as 100 rupees for such efforts, like throwing a grenade, though they are often hurt or miss the targeted security forces, killing bystanders instead.14 

In one case, 17 year-old Mohammad Abdulla, along with an accomplice –both members of the notorious extremist regime Lashkar-e-Taiba –carried out an attack on a crowded residential housing development in Jammu (part of Indian controlled Kashmir). Within minutes the two emptied four AK-47 assault rifle magazines –containing 32 rounds each –and detonated five hand grenades, killing 28 people, including eight women and ten children.15 When apprehended and questioned by the Indian police Abdulla replied, “I was not happy about it but my controllers in Pakistan said it was necessary to establish terror. I had my orders and had to follow them. It was not a question of liking the job but simply executing it.”16 

Indian sources estimate between 2,000 and 4,000 mujahideen17 militants to be in Kashmir; of this figure they believe 40 percent to be from Pakistan/Afghanistan and 80 percent to be in their teens.18 In recent years the tactics used by these groups in terrorist attacks has intensified, switching from bullets and guns to explosives and advanced communications.19 Like the situation in Israel, this has escalated the conflict, increasing the number and severity of civilian casualties, as well as making it more difficult for security forces to prevent terrorist activity.

Why are these young people willing to throw away their lives? Who led them to believe that assuming dangerous roles in the violence would improve their personal, family, or political situation? What cause, no matter how deeply held, can motivate a society to sacrifice its children, its future? To find the answers, it is necessary to examine the influences at work in Palestinian and Pakistani society that incite children to violence with the approval and encouragement of their political and religious leadership, parents, and peers.

Inciting Children to Violence

The close connection between incitement and violence is implicit in all the signed peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. The Cairo Agreement, signed in 1994 by Yasser Arafat, then President of the PA, obligates the PA to “foster mutual understanding and tolerance” and “abstain from incitement, including hostile propaganda, [and]… take legal measures to prevent such incitement by any organizations, groups, or individuals.” Yet, as demonstrated, various measures adopted by the Palestinian leadership and media are clearly aimed at provoking violence in children.

While the phenomenon of suicide bombing in Israel is usually associated with radical militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, it was the PA –the very Palestinian entity established, empowered, funded and armed to carry out the Oslo peace process –that was the primary force behind Shahada, literally ‘testimony of faith,’ or martyrdom. However, now that Hamas has largely taken over the PA, violent incitement is both authoritative and nearly omnipresent. Television and radio stations, Internet web sites, religious sermons, school textbooks, newspapers and magazines, and even summer camp curricula are all directly or indirectly controlled by the PA, which uses them to glorify martyrdom and to convince Palestinian children to engage in life-threatening behavior. Television programs of all kinds display images of blood and dead children are frequently broadcast, followed by scenes of children playing, captioned with the slogan, “Seek Death – The Life will be Given to You.”

In one powerful video clip, shown regularly on PA-controlled TV during the Intifada, a child actor playing the role of Mohammed Dura, the most widely recognized child victim of the fighting, is shown waving to his young viewers, calling on them to follow him to paradise. We then see snippets of his joyous life in heaven with a backdrop of beaches and waterfalls. The actor walks through an amusement park and flies a kite. He says, “I am not waving goodbye, I am waving to tell you to follow in my footsteps.” On the accompanying soundtrack a song plays, “How pleasant is the smell of martyrs, how pleasant the smell of land, the land enriched by the blood, the blood pouring out of a fresh body.”20 While this clip was removed from Palestinian TV in 2003 when U.S. senators expressed shock and disgust at what they perceived to be “horrific child abuse,” the PA resumed its use in broadcasts in June 2006.21 

Many popular cultural programs “encourage martyrdom and show approval for those who are killed.” Cultural events broadcast on Palestinian television often include elements glorifying violence. According to an article in the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, “television broadcasts include songs and dances accompanied by photographs of violence, all emphasizing how noble it is to die for the sake of Allah.”22 A Palestinian TV children’s show called ‘The Children’s Club,’ which is modeled on the American program ‘Sesame Street,’ aired an episode in which young boys with raised arms chanted “we are ready with our guns; revolution until victory.”23 

The Internet is also a dangerous new tool used to promote violence. Palestinian Media Watch reported in 2006 that suicide terror for children was still being actively promoted on a Hamas children’s website, It includes a short fictional story for children, glorifying a young girl’s suicide terror attack. In the story, she calmly progresses, step by step, planning and executing her death. The girl heroically leads “Zionist soldiers” to their death, all the while knowing she will be killed along with them. In death she is said to be “smiling, lying on the grass, because she died as a Shahida (martyr for Allah) for Palestine.”24 

In a PA-run summer camp, a New York Times reporter observed campers staging the kidnapping of Israeli leaders, stripping and assembling Kalashnikov assault rifles, and learning how to stage an ambush. The campers were even given camouflage uniforms and imitation guns.25 They paraded in military formation and practiced infiltration, crawling on their stomachs through obstacles. Intoxicated by the challenge of heroism, tempted by martyrdom, and lacking emotional maturity, these young people are easily motivated to place themselves in harm’s way. Arafat himself frequently referred to Palestinian children as “the generals of the stones,” playing to their pride and young egos.26 

Speaking to an audience of children on Palestinian TV, Arafat continuously glorified the idea of child martyrdom. In Arafat’s words, “The Shahid constitutes the fundamental and victorious force of our people.” In an interview in a PA-controlled newspaper, Youssef Jamah, then Palestinian Minister of Holy Sites, states, “The suicide bombings are a legitimate means through which the Palestinians fight the enemy…. The attacks are the command of Allah.”27 Sheik ‘Ikrimi Sabri, the former PA-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, believes “There is no doubt that a child [Shahid] suggests that the new generation will carry on the mission with determination. The younger the Shahid  – the greater and the more I respect him.”28 Sermons delivered in mosques have also frequently included unequivocal calls to violence.

Also heard live on Palestinian television was a sermon by Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya, a member of the PA-appointed Fatwa Council and former acting Rector of the Islamic University in Gaza, who called for Israelis to be humiliated, tortured, and butchered.29 He continued, “Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill those Americans who are like them – and those that stand by them.”30 Another cleric, Dr. Muhammed Ibrahim Madi, declared on PA-controlled television, “Shame upon he who does not educate his children the education of Jihad. Blessings upon he who dons a vest of explosives…on himself or on his children and goes into the midst of the Jews.”31 While the sermons are broadcast live from mosques on television and radio, it should be noted that they are also heard directly by those praying in the mosques, an audience that often includes children.

Similarly, in Pakistan, child incitement is propagated by the authorities. While the Pakistani government denies furnishing assistance through the provision of armaments, training and monetary aid for militant organizations, top government officials admit to assisting militants across the Pakistani border in Indian controlled Kashmir –in many cases killing any Indian army personnel who stand in the way.

The aftermath of September 11, 2001, has created a wave of international pressure calling on the Pakistani government to curtail the growth of religious extremism within its borders, including the indoctrination of children for the purpose of Jihad. The Pakistani government has perfunctorily humored the international community with reassuring rhetoric, but has taken no concrete action to inhibit terrorist activity. In one case Pakistan’s former Interior Minister, Moinuddin Haider, stated that “the brand of Islam that they are teaching is not good for Pakistan, some in the garb of religious training, are busy poisoning peoples [including children’s] minds.”32 

In June of 2000, Haider “announced a reform plan that would require all ‘madrasas’33 –schools run and educated by religious extremism –to register with the government, expand their curricula, disclose their financial resources … and stop sending students to militant training camps.”34 According to Harvard Professor Jessica Stern, an expert in the study of religious extremism, the Pakistani government has taken little or no proactive steps to eliminate this problem.35 An article by Stern, published in the Journal of Foreign Affairs in 2000, reported “only 4,350 of the estimated 40,000 to 50,000 madrasas have registered with the government.”36 These madrasas have made it clear that they are unwilling to revise their curricula, and consistently ignore the rights of their students by sending them to training camps “despite parents’ instructions not to do so.”37 

Madrasas are the primary source of child incitement within Pakistan.38 According to World Bank estimates, only 40 percent of Pakistanis are literate due to a lack of public schools in rural areas.39 The combination of poverty and a shortage of schools has swelled the ranks of the madrasas, and made them even more powerful. On top of providing a free education these institutions gain support by feeding, clothing, and housing their students. In some cases they have reportedly paid parents to enroll their children. According to Stern, 7,500 madrasas preach Jihad.40 Dr. Daphne Burdman explains that repetition, Koranic rote learning, and mandatory prolonged chanting is the norm.41 These techniques dull the brain and destroy creative thinking, thus fostering an atmosphere in which terrorism and ‘martyrdom’ are easily propagated.42 

A study done by Stern interviewed some of the principles of the madrasas. At one school Jamia Manzoor ul Islamyia –with an enrollment of about 550 students –the principal was asked if he had a favorite book. His response was the “Koran.” When asked about a popular Sufi singer –Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan –his response was “I don’t need music. Music is for those who have an addiction within them.” Questioned about Albert Einstein, the principal remarked “that he saw no need for science.”43 Stern met two children who wanted to become doctors. Embarrassed, the principal remarked “by the time I’ve worked on them for a year, they will want to be mujahideen too.”44 

After being indoctrinated at a madrasa, many students go on to further their fundamentalist education at militant training camps. A typical day begins at 4:00 am, with prayers and a small breakfast consisting of bread and tea. This is followed by a full day of rigorous drills constructing of bombs, and using sniper rifles, rocket launchers, and communications equipment. This daily process is interrupted for only a single meal –consisting of rice –and daily prayers. Sports, music, and literature are forbidden, and only prescreened newspapers are allowed to be read. The final exam for this program consists of a three-day hike through rugged mountainous terrain with no food or sleep. The ‘best’ of these graduates are selected for martyrdom.45 

Even outside this system of manipulation, young Pakistanis are vulnerable to exploitation. On July 12, 2005, Mohammad Akram, aged 11, was on his way home from school in Kashmir when he was stopped by a group of men who handed him a hand grenade to throw in the local market place. He was promised 500 rupees (less that USD $11) for the task. Before he could fling the grenade however, it exploded in his hands, injuring him severely.46 Shortly thereafter a 9 year-old girl named Tahira from Pangai village, was seriously injured when an improvised explosive device (IED) that she was handling exploded. She had been forced by terrorists to place the IED on a road often used by the Indian troops.47 

Again, in August of 2003, two Kashmiri Muslim boys aged 13 and 17 were kidnapped at gunpoint by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure) terrorist organization. The boys are among hundreds of Muslim youths that have been forcibly recruited and trained to commit acts of terror against the Indian military and civilian populations.48 The boys’ kidnappers were most likely responding to the dictates of Lashkar-e-Taiba, ordering local villages “to contribute one recruit each to the organization, or face reprisals.”49 

The implications of this systematic form of indoctrination are vast and dangerous. As stated by one mujahid, “A person addicted to heroin can get off it if he really tries, but a mujahid cannot leave the Jihad. I am spiritually addicted to the Jihad.”50 Another mujahid stated that “we won’t stop –even if India gave us Kashmir…we’ll also bring Jihad here. There is already a movement here to make Pakistan a pure Islamic state. Many preach Islam, but most of them don’t know what it means. We want to see a Taliban-style regime here.”51 

Educating the “Martyrs of Tomorrow”

Even in the PA’s public schools, whose textbooks are financed by the European Union, incitement against Israel and the glorification of martyrdom are prominent themes, embedded in nationalistic aspirations. Needless to say, interest in reconciliation with Israel is notably absent. Elementary school teachers and principals commend their young students for wanting to “tear their [Zionists’] bodies into little pieces and cause them more pain than they will ever know.”52 Posters in university classrooms proudly remind the world that the Palestinian cause is armed with “human bombs.” Sheik Hassan Yosef, a leading Hamas member, summarized this process of incitement in his own words: “We like to grow them from kindergarten through college.”53 Palestinian Brig.-Gen. Mahmoud Abu Marzoug reminded a group of tenth grade girls in Gaza City, “As a Shahid, you will be alive in Heaven.” After the address, a group of these girls lined up to assure a Washington Post reporter that they would be happy to carry out suicide bombings.54 

When the PA assumed responsibility for education in the West Bank and Gaza in 1994, it adopted textbooks from Jordan and Egypt. These schoolbooks contained egregious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric, including overt calls for Israel’s destruction. After much international criticism, a curriculum review project was initiated by the PA, which resulted in the publishing of new textbooks for just grades one and six, for the school year 2000-2001. While much of the explicit incitement against Israel and Jews that existed in the old schoolbooks is gone, there is still considerable de-legitimization of Israel, and denial of any Jewish historical connection to the land. Israel is omitted on all maps of the area, and all cities and natural and historic landmarks in Israel are in a land called ‘Palestine.’

In the new sixth grade textbook entitled ‘Reading the Koran,’ Palestinian children read about Allah’s threat to the Jews that He will kill them because of their evil.55 Elsewhere they are taught that Jews are like donkeys and that they will be expelled from their homes by Allah.56 In the assessment of Palestinian Media Watch this religious based anti-Semitism is the most dangerous, as children are taught that hating Jews is God’s will.57 Moreover, although Islam also has positive traditions regarding Jews, the PA educators chose to incorporate only hateful religious incitement. Israel is portrayed as foreign to the Middle East and is described as a colonialist conqueror. All conquered Arab land in Israel must be “liberated.”58 

Violent death is sanctified throughout the Palestinian neighborhoods, too. The streets are plastered with posters glorifying the exploits of individual suicide bombers. Instead of baseball cards, children trade martyr cards, purchased at their local shops. One favorite wall slogan reads: “Beware of death by natural causes.”59 Suicide bombing is considered a source of neighborhood pride, as streets are named after the perpetrators of these atrocities. There is even a musical group named ‘The Martyrs,’ whose lyrics espouse the virtues of “sacrificing yourself for Allah.”60 Under these cultural influences, many children readily admit that they want to become suicide bombers. Some draw pictures and fantasize about the day when they will achieve their goal. Boys are also taught that, as suicide bombers, they will ascend to a paradise of luxury staffed by 72 virgins waiting to gratify the martyrs as they arrive.

In Pakistan, too, government-controlled schools hardly provide more scholastic integrity than the madrasas and training camps. The educational agenda of these schools is to instill the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ into the minds of students, the belief that the Muslim religion is superior to all other religions and that Pakistan is the Muslim homeland. In one seventh grade textbook the sections explaining different political systems was replaced with chapters titled “What it Means to be a Good Pakistani” and “Standing in Queue.”61 One student stated: “we have covered the same material year after year… we don’t have to study for the tests, because the ideology of Pakistan has been instilled into us.”62 

Dr. Yvette Clair Rosser’s study for the Observer Research Foundation further revealed the prejudices apparent in Pakistani textbooks. On an ethnic level textbooks embody supremacist phrases condemning outside religions. In Pakistani textbooks, Hindu’s are referred to as “diabolical and conspiring against Pakistan.”63 On top of this, they are described as “backward, superstitious, wife burners, and that they are inherently cruel and if given the chance would assert their power over the weak, especially Muslims, by depriving them of education and pouring molten lead into their ears.”64 

Madrasan rhetoric however, is not confined to tirades against India and Hindus. They also proclaim the need to perform Jihad on the West, which they believe is run by Jews. They promote the goal of “planting Islamic flags in Delhi, Tel Aviv and Washington.”65 One of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s websites has a list of Jews that the authors think have worked for the Clinton administration. Included in this list is former Office of Presidential Personnel Director Robert Nash (an African American from the United States) and former CIA director George Tennet (a Greek American).66 Lashkar-e-Taiba goes as far as accusing Israel of assisting India in Kashmir, making the claim that “Hitler was right in that he understood that the Jews and peace are incompatible.”67 

A Family’s Badge of Pride

For many Palestinian children, incitement begins at home. Many parents believe that the death of their child for the sake of holy Jihad and Islam will guarantee him or her everlasting life and bliss in the hereafter. This type of sacrifice has become a badge of pride in certain segments of Palestinian society The father of a 13 year-old says, “I pray that God will choose him to become a Shahid.”68 One mother of a 13 year-old who perished as a result of his participation in the Intifada, told a journalist from the (London) Times: “I am happy that he has been martyred. I will sacrifice all my sons and daughters (12 in all) to Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem.”69 Another mother boasted that she bore her son precisely for the purpose of participating in such a Jihad, while the child’s father proudly claimed to have provided his son with the training.70 

A photograph in the Jerusalem Post on February 26, 2002, pictured Palestinian fathers teaching a group of toddlers and young children to hold assault rifles while trampling on American and Israeli flags. But perhaps the most shocking evidence of the brainwashing was found in the family photo album of a wanted Hamas militant. This album contained a photograph of a baby dressed as a suicide bomber, complete with a harness of mock explosives and the traditional Shahid’s red headband.71 

Another reason why Palestinian parents allowed and even encouraged their children to get involved was the financial incentive offered to families of ‘martyrs.’ Thus, the PA furnished a cash payment –USD $2,000 per child killed and USD $300 per child wounded. From the beginning of the Intifada until the capture of Baghdad by allied forces in April 2003, the Arab Liberation Front, a Palestinian group loyal to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, paid generous bounties to the injured, and the families of the Palestinian dead, according to the following sordid sliding scale: $500 for a wound; $1,000 for disability; $10,000 to the family of each martyr; and $25,000 to the family of every suicide bomber. These are lavish sums, particularly given the chronic unemployment and poverty of the Palestinians who reside in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.72 

In January, 2003 marches and rallies were planned by Fatah, the largest faction of the PLO (then governing party of the PA), to celebrate the 38th anniversary of the founding of the movement. At the time, PA Minister of the Interior, Hani al-Hassan, warned the Fatah activists against any display of weapons or the wearing of masks during the demonstrations. Yet Hassan’s directive was completely ignored. Witnesses said that the marchers “carried almost every kind of weapon, turning the celebration into a military parade.” Shots were fired into the air from rifles and pistols. “The shooting continued all day,” said one Palestinian. “It was like being in a battlefront. People were terrified, and it’s only a miracle that no one was killed or injured.” Many Palestinian bystanders were especially disturbed by the participation of several hundred children brandishing Kalashnikov rifles during the demonstrations. Some of the children were dressed in white uniforms, and wrapped in explosive belts to emulate Palestinian suicide bombers.73 

Similarly, in Pakistan the same martyrdom ideology is held by many parents. In her study, Stern states, “Many mothers claimed that they would donate sons, because it will help them in the next life.”74 One father stated “whoever gives his life to Allah lives forever and earns a spot in heaven for 70 members of the family chosen by him.”75 

There are organizations in Pakistan, as in Palestine, that have been set up to help the families of Pakistani martyrs. These organizations help to pay debts, improve the families’ living conditions and start businesses.76 One organization, Jamaat-e-Islam, claims to provide financial support to over 364 families, and to have paid out over three million Pakistani rupees.77 When interviewed, one mother whose son lost his life to Jihad claimed, “God is helping us a lot,”78 pointing to the new additions to her house. She stated that she wanted to martyr her youngest son who was ten years of age. When questioned what he wants to do when he grows up, he instantly answered “Jihad.”

The Relevance of International Law

We live in an era in which the rights of children are widely considered paramount. ‘The best interest of the child’ is the standard that is routinely used in controversies concerning parental custody, child labor, child abuse, and juvenile criminal procedures.79 

The international community has increasingly condemned the utilization of children in armed conflicts accordingly. Many non-governmental organizations have been trying to combat this form of child abuse. A coalition of American pediatricians, Doctors Opposed to Child Sacrifice, has called on the PA to stop broadcasting advertisements and all other programs that call on children to participate in violent acts glorifying martyrdom.80 Amnesty International condemned the use of children in suicide attacks, calling it “an abomination” and urging the Palestinian leadership “to publicly denounce these practices.”81 

The use of children as human shields to impede the adversary’s military operations is prohibited by implication in Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which strictly forbids the use of civilians as shields. Thus, activities of radical Palestinians and Pakistanis to further encourage youth to participate in confrontations as human shields, the PA declared school holidays for that purpose, and drove busloads of children to hot spots.82 Such activity is in clear violation of Article 28. More generally, with intent to protect civilians, the Geneva Convention proscribes the placing of fighting forces in the midst of civilian populations. The Palestinian practice of setting up bomb and missile factories and centers of operational planning for armed conflict in the middle of densely populated civilian areas, including refugee camps, puts all noncombatants in the vicinity, including children, at great risk.83 This, again, is a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) condemns the recruitment and involvement of children less than fifteen years of age in hostilities and armed conflicts. This standard conforms to Islamic law, which prohibits children under fifteen from participating in Jihad. Current treaty law not only forbids children from participating in combat, but also proscribes a wide range of other indirect activities that support violence or terrorism. Furthermore, a number of states have risen the minimum age for children to participate in armed conflicts from fifteen to eighteen.84 However, in practice, neither international law nor Islamic laws were effective in curtailing the exploitation of children during the Intifada.

The Cult of Martyrdom: Consequences for the Next Generation and the Possibility of Peace

The eager participation of Palestinian youth in acts of violence is fueled, to some extent, by the sight of enemy soldiers in their neighborhoods, by a desire for revenge for the killing of a family member or friend, or even by the desire to demonstrate their courage and audacity. A passionate desire for martyrdom and death does not come about as a natural consequence of anger or frustration. Children and their parents are indoctrinated through PA-controlled television, religious sermons, school textbooks, and other media sources, to believe that martyrdom is a religious and patriotic obligation, and is rewarded by an afterlife of eternal bliss. They live surrounded in an environment that glorifies the Shahid.

The generation of Palestinian children that has been raised in a culture that celebrates hate, killing, and death will have difficulty accepting any plan for peace with Israel. ‘Envious’ of the ‘glory’ of Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists who fought against Israel, a 17-year old Arab stabbed an Italian national to death in Jerusalem’s Old City, mistaking him for a Jew.85 Ironically, the Italian was in Jerusalem to participate in a summer camp with Palestinian children.86 Even more troubling is the spread of the cult of martyrdom, and with it, the export of highly developed Palestinian techniques of suicide bombing to other countries in the Middle East, and to other parts of the world, including Iraq.87Ominously, Iranian state television has also broadcast cartoons glorifying suicide bombings against Israelis.88 

Pakistani and Kashmiri madrasas continue to preach Jihad against India and the West, nurturing legions of future Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists. Despite assurances by Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, that he is working to reform such schools, indoctrination of Muslim children, as well as the forced recruitment of children to armed conflict, is on the rise.89 If this problem is not addressed urgently and effectively, perhaps assisted by Israeli intelligence and security services (beneficiaries of ample experience in these unfortunate matters),90 India may find itself in a situation similar to Israel’s during the worst years of the Intifada.91 Suicide attacks will become all too common.

Over the course of the Intifada, the Israeli public came to realize that unfortunately, the Palestinian generation supposedly under the influence of the anti-incitement provisions of the Oslo peace agreements, will have to be reeducated. The culture of martyrdom and its pervasiveness in the lives of Palestinian children must be understood and urgently addressed; even more so now that control of the PA is in the hands of Hamas which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

Hamas’ apparent concern for Palestinians has been shown to be a fraud; it is clear that it has only one agenda –the destruction of Israel by any means. Involving children in its war with Israel is not beyond Hamas, and, now that it controls the PA, is akin to official policy of the Palestinian government. The cries of relatives whose loved ones perished at the hands of terrorists is an eerily familiar sound to Israeli ears, and is becoming more so in India and the West. If countries the world over do not address the phenomenon of Shahid child-rearing, the situation will only get worse. Islamic leaders have to emphasize those Islamic values that respect other religions, historical narratives, and traditions. Only then can the best interests of the Palestinian children and Muslim children in extreme societies across the world be safeguarded.

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  1. “Suicide bombings’ might more aptly be called ‘homicide bombings’ or ‘genocide bombings’ if one examines the intent of the bombers and their handlers.
  2. Robert Marquand, “New Faces Join Fray in Kashmir,” Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 2000.
  3. Ha’aretz Staff and Agencies, “16 Year-Old Rishon Bomber was Youngest to Strike in Israel,” Ha’aretz, June 9, 2002.
  4. On July 11, 2006, some 200 people were killed and at least 400 injured in seven well orchestrated bomb attacks that devastated the train network in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai.
  5. Ramola Talwar Badam, “Indian Police Blame Pakistan in Bombings,” Associated Press, September 30, 2006, asp?ArticleID=11309.
  6. Harsh V. Pant, “India-Israel Partnership: Convergence and Constraints,” The Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 8, No. 4,
  7. Yaakov Katz, “We Bought your Missiles Amid Fears of Pakistan War,” Jerusalem Post, October 13, 2006, pg. 1
  8. Amos Harel, “Palestinians: Policeman Hurt in IDF Raid in Gaza Refugee Camp,” Ha’aretz, March 25, 2004.
  9. Operation Defensive Shield was launched on March 29, 2002. It was triggered by a spate of suicide bombings, including one on March 27 that killed 26 Israelis attending a Passover holiday meal in a hotel. The operation, intended to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure developed by the Palestinian Authority, involved the deployment of IDF forces into the West Bank and Gaza.
  10. According to the Israeli Government, the sole purpose of the Security Fence is to provide security to the Israeli public. Accordingly, the Security Fence is a central component in Israel’s response to the wave of terrorism emanating from the West Bank, which resulted in many deaths of innocent civilians. “Israel’s Security Fence,” Israeli Ministry of Defence website,
  11. Justus Reid Weiner, “The Recruitment of Children in Current Palestinian Strategy,” Jerusalem Issue Brief, October 1, 2002, brief/brief2-8.htm.
  12. Margot Dudkevitch, “Fatah Tries to Use 11 Year-old Boy as Human Bomb,” Jerusalem Post, March 16, 2004.
  13. Justus Reid Weiner, “Child Abuse: The New Islamic Cult of Martyrdom,” Faultlines, Vol. 16, 2001, faultlines/volume16/Article3.htm.
  14. Prakriiti Gupta, “Child warriors,” The Hindu, November 20, 2005,
  15. Rahul Bedi, “Schoolboy Recruit who Killed 28 in First Operation,” Telegraph, 2002,
  16. Rahul Bedi, “Schoolboy Recruit who Killed 28 in First Operation,” Telegraph, 2002,
  17. Mujahideen are Muslim guerillas fighting in the name of Jihad and Islam. Although sometimes assisted by the Pakistani government and military, these groups are separate entities governed by radical Islamist ideology.
  18. N. S. Rajaram, “Meltdown in Pakistan,” The Voice of Dharma,
  19. Jessica Stern,. “Meeting With the Muj,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 57, no.1, pg. 42-50, ofn=jf01stern.
  20. The theme of ‘blood’ is frequently used in lyrics and photographs directed at inciting children.
  21. Justus Reid Weiner and Noam Weissman “Hamas’ Determination to Perpetuate the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: the Critical Role of Hate Indoctrination,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 545, August 1, 2006,
  22. Nadav Shragai, “Child Writes to Mother, ‘Rejoice over My Death,'” Ha’aretz, January 8, 2003.
  23. Matthew Dorf, “Palestinian Children’s Show Sparks Anger in Washington,” Jewish Telegraph Agency, August 17, 1998.
  24. Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, Palestinian Media Watch, “Suicide terror for children glorified on Hamas children’s web site,” March 16, 2006, fp-t-501&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8
  25. John F. Burns, “Palestinian Summer Camp Offers the Games of War,” New York Times, August 3, 2000.
  26. Justus Reid Weiner, “The Recruitment of Children in Current Palestinian Strategy,” Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 2 No. 8, October 1, 2002,
  27. “Palestinian Incitement of Suicide Bombings,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, May 18, 2001, MFAArchive/2000_2009/2001/5/Palestinian%20Incitement%20of%20Suicide%20Bombings.
  28. “PA Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Discuss the Intifada,” Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), November 8, 2000, http://www.memri. org/.
  29. “The Palestinians in their own Words,” Information Regarding Israel’s Security (IRIS), October 16, 2000,
  30. “The Palestinians in their own Words,” Information Regarding Israel’s Security (IRIS), October 16, 2000,
  31. Nadav Shragai, “Child Writes to Mother, ‘Rejoice over My Death,'” Ha’aretz, January 8, 2003.
  32. Jessica Stern, “Pakistan’s Jihad Culture,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2000,
  33. Madrasahs’ are schools run by religious extremists (in Pakistan many have links to the Taliban) that only teach Jihad.
  34. Jessica Stern, “Pakistan’s Jihad Culture,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2000,
  35. Jessica Stern, “Pakistan’s Jihad Culture,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2000,
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  40. Jessica Stern,. “Meeting With the Muj,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 57, no.1, pg. 42-50, ofn=jf01stern.
  41. Daphne Burdman, “Hatred of the Jews as a Psychological Phenomenon in Palestinian Society,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 18, No. 3-4, pg. 52.
  42. Daphne Burdman, “Hatred of the Jews as a Psychological Phenomenon in Palestinian Society,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 18, No. 3-4, pg. 52.
  43. Jessica Stern,. “Meeting With the Muj,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 57, no.1, pg. 42-50, ofn=jf01stern.
  44. Jessica Stern,. “Meeting With the Muj,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 57, no.1, pg. 42-50, ofn=jf01stern.
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  48. Lakshar-e-Taiba, or ‘Army of the Righteous,’ is on the list of U.S. Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Founded in 1989, the Pakistan-based group targets Indian troops and civilians in Kashmir, as well as the Indian Parliament.
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  52. Justus Reid Weiner and Michael Sussman, “Will the Next Generation of Palestinians Make Peace with Israel?,” Jerusalem Viewpoints No. 537, December 1, 2005,
  53. Katherine Bair, “From Nurturing Terror to Raising Hope,” 2003. This paper was awarded a prize by the Ellie Weisel Foundation for Humanity.
  54. Richard Leiby, “Where Rage Resides: for the Ordinary People of Gaza City, Death is a Way of Life,” Washington Post, April 24, 2002.
  55. Justus Reid Weiner, “Child Abuse: The New Islamic Cult of Martyrdom,” Faultlines, 2001, volume16/Article3.htm.
  56. Jay Shapiro, “A Regional Perspective on the Arab-Israel Conflict,” Nativ Online: A Journal of Politics and the Arts, August 2004,
  57. Itamar Marcus, “Planting the Seeds of the Next War: The Truth About Palestinian Schoolbooks, Jerusalem Post, June 29, 2003, il/new/index.html.
  58. Itamar Marcus, “The New Palestinian Authority School Textbooks for Grades One and Six,” Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, November 2000, pgs. 1, 19,
  59. Amos Harel, Ha’aretz, July 15, 2002,
  60. Justus Reid Weiner, “The Recruitment of Children in Current Palestinian Strategy,”
  61. Yvette C. Rosser, Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks, (Observer Research Foundation), 2003, pg. 59.
  62. Yvette C. Rosser, Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks, (Observer Research Foundation), 2003, pg. 5.
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  67. Jessica Stern, “Pakistan’s Jihad Culture,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2000,
  68. Chris Hedges, “The Glamour of Martyrdom,” New York Times, October 29, 2001.
  69. Sam Kelly, “A Deadly Game,” The Times (London), October 19, 2000.
  70. Gerald Steinberg, “Child Sacrifice is Palestinian Paganism,” Jerusalem Post, October 27, 2000.
  71. Ramit Plushnick-Masti, “Palestinian Baby Picture Stirs Anger,” Jerusalem Post, June 30, 2002.
  72. Hassan Fattah, “Saddam Rewards Palestinian Martyrs,” Jerusalem Post, March 14, 2003; Khaled Abu Toameh, “Checks and Balances,” Jerusalem Post, March 21, 2003.
  73. Khaled Abu Toameh, “Palestinians Condemn Use of Children at Fatah ‘Military Parade,'” Jerusalem Post, January 2, 2003.
  74. Jessica Stern, “Pakistan’s Jihad Culture,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2000,
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  79. Philip Alston, “The Best Interests of the Child: Reconciling Culture and Human Rights,” UNICEF, 1984.
  80. Melissa Radler, “PA Ads Encouraging Child Violence Slammed,” Jerusalem Post, May 11, 2001.
  81. “Israel/Occupied Territories: Children Must Not Be Used By Armed Groups,” Amnesty International, March 24, 2004, mav/index/ENGMDE150302004.
  82. Justus Reid Weiner, “The Use of Palestinian Children in the Al-Aqsa Intifada: A Legal and Political Analysis,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, vol.16 No. 1, 2002.
  83. Muhammad Daraghmeh, “Disarming the Intifada,” The Jerusalem Times, April 17, 2003. This article reports that armed fighters, or ‘militias,’ often rent houses in residential areas which they then use as their headquarters on a daily basis.
  84. General Assembly Resolution 54/263, “Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts,” February 2002.
  85. Etgar Lefkovits, “Italian Stabbed to Death in Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Post, August 10, 2006, 4&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull.
  86. “Young Man Stabbed in Jerusalem,” Air Security International, August 11, 2006.
  87. In April 2003, U.S. troops found a cache of leather suicide vests in a schoolroom in Iraq. They were fully armed with explosives, metal shards and ball bearings intended to augment the pain of any victim that was not killed instantly. Carol Rosenberg, “Chaos Still Reigns in Baghdad,” Miami Herald, April 14, 2003.
  88. Toby Harnden, “Suicide Bombers on Iran Kids’ TV,” Daily Telegraph, November 6, 2006.
  89. Michael Hirsh, Zahid Hussain, Ron Moreau, and Sami Yousafzai, “Holy War 101,” Newsweek, December 1, 2003.
  90. Israel’s experience in fighting terrorism prompted it to begin building a security fence in 2002 that would separate it from the territories from which most of the suicide attacks originated. In 2003, the number of Israeli fatalities due to terrorism declined by more than 50% from the previous year — from 451 to 213. The overall number of attacks also declined from 5,301 in 2002 to 3,838 in 2003, a drop of 30%. “Noteworthy Statistics,” Jerusalem Post editorial, January 10, 2004,
  91. In fact, the problems India faces vis-à-vis terrorism is so similar to that of Israel, that it too was prompted to build a security fence to stop terrorists from entering Indian territory. The Indian government spent over USD $2.5 billion on the fence that is equipped with the latest hi-tech gadgetry. Barry Feinstein and Justus Reid Weiner, “Israel’s Security Barrier: An International Comparative Analysis and Legal Evaluation,” The George Washington International Law Review, Vol. 37, No. 2, 2005, pg. 318-319.