Hamas is currently recruiting thousands of Palestinians aged 15 to 21 into its new “Liberation Army” in Gaza, journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported today. So on top of the fact that it’s spending its money on a military buildup even as thousands of residents of Hamas-controlled Gaza remain homeless with no help in sight, half the age cohort Hamas seeks to recruit consists of people under 18, whom the United Nations and international human-rights groups define as children. Recruiting child soldiers is generally considered a gross violation of human rights. Yet far from condemning this behavior, the “international community” is actively encouraging it.
After all, you don’t hear much about Hamas’s recruitment efforts from the UN, the EU, the media or major human-rights organizations. But if those child soldiers are someday killed fighting Israel, all of these bodies will vie over who can condemn Israel for “killing children” most vociferously. And it’s precisely that reaction that makes recruiting child soldiers a win-win for Hamas: By so doing, not only can it significantly expand its fighting forces, but it can also ensure that Israel suffers international vilification whenever a war breaks out–all without suffering any negative consequences to itself.
In fact, it’s a triple win for Hamas, because this tactic doesn’t only endanger the child soldiers themselves; it also endangers innocent 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds. After all, if Hamas is recruiting children this age into its “army,” then Israeli soldiers have to treat every male in that age range as a potential combatant. And in the fog of battle–where it’s often hard for soldiers to tell exactly who is shooting at them, especially since Hamas operatives don’t wear uniforms and frequently open fire from amid civilians–anyone who looks like a potential combatant is more likely to be killed. Thus Israel will be accused of killing even more children.
During last summer’s war in Gaza, for instance, the “official” UN statistics reported worldwide asserted that almost a quarter of the Palestinian fatalities–24 percent–were children. Most people, hearing a figure like that, are shocked and appalled, and immediately conclude that Israel was at best guilty of using excessive force and at worst of war crimes. Consequently, Hamas benefits when this figure is inflated; Alan Dershowitz aptly termed this Hamas’s “dead-baby strategy.”
But it only works because the UN, the media, human-rights groups, world leaders, and all the other sources people depend on for information collaborate with it.
One way they do so is by neglecting to mention that some of those children–we’ll probably never know how many–were actually killed by misfired Hamas rockets or secondary explosions of the weaponry Hamas routinely stores in civilian houses; all Palestinian casualties are automatically blamed on Israel. Another is by neglecting to provide comparative data that would illustrate the difficulty of preventing civilian casualties while fighting terrorists in a dense urban environment, like the fact that the proportion of children killed in U.S. airstrikes in Iraq was much higher, at 39 percent.
A third reason, however, is that the UN carefully doesn’t mention how many of those “children” were males aged 15, 16, or 17; it defines everyone under age 18 as a child and lumps them all together in one grand total. Given Hamas’s known habit of recruiting teenagers, at least some of those killed “children” were certainly either actual combatants or people Israeli soldiers had valid reason to suspect of being combatants. But you’d never know that from the UN, the media, human-rights groups, or world leaders.
You might call this the “dead teenager” variant of Hamas’s strategy: Fan international hatred of Israel by recruiting child soldiers whose deaths will be reported worldwide as “Israel kills innocent children.” And as long as the international community keeps collaborating with this strategy, Hamas will have every incentive to keep right on recruiting child soldiers.
Originally published in Commentary on January 21, 2015