It’s that time of year again. June is the month when parents across Israel scramble to find affordable and appropriate day-camps for those of their children who are too young to stay at home alone while Mommy and Daddy are at work.
It’s also the period when every educational institution, from nursery to high school, is busy preparing end-of-year parties and graduation ceremonies. These include songs about summer and parting from friends, about growing up and moving on – and, of course, about yearning for and seeking peace.
The kids finishing up kindergarten — and their parents — are among the most nervous and excited. Some already know how to read. Their parents are worried they’ll be bored when they begin first grade in September. Some are not yet able to go beyond writing their own names on their drawings. Their mothers and fathers hope they will overcome their anxiety about having to be in “real school” now, with notebooks and sharpened pencils instead of wood blocks and crayons.
In Gaza, less than an hour and a half from Tel Aviv, school graduations are also underway. There, too, parents have been scrambling to obtain slots for their beloved offspring in summer camps run by Hamas. At these institutions, children do not learn how to swim or make lanyards. No, their time is not wasted on frivolous childhood activities. Instead, they spend their time receiving instruction on how best to contribute to the Palestinian cause of killing Jews and annihilating Israel. It is, as far as the parents of these babes in the woods are concerned, an important preparatory period for their coming of age as suicide bombers.
But Hamas isn’t the only group in Gaza concerned with child welfare. Islamic Jihad is just as interested in providing the next generation with crucial tools for their future as upstanding Palestinian citizens, and the earlier the better. This terrorist organization, like everyone else, realizes that tots have an enormous hunger and capacity for learning.
This month, an Islamic Jihad kindergarten displayed for parents how well its 5- and 6-year-olds had absorbed what they were taught during the year. At their graduation ceremony, the little ones put on a performance that made the adults enormously proud.
The show included a series of skits depicting Israeli soldiers as evil torturers of innocent Palestinians. A number of the children were in a cage, representing an Israeli prison, with their hands cuffed behind their backs. Others were dressed in makeshift IDF uniforms — with kippot on their heads — carrying various kinds of weapons. One child playing an Israeli soldier shoved the head of another child, playing a tortured Palestinian, into a bucket of water. Meanwhile, the children recited anti-Israel slogans and expressed their desire to become martyrs.
The principal of the kindergarten explained the impetus behind the show. "We have to educate children at the earliest stages of their lives to love the resistance, Palestine and Jerusalem, so that they know what Palestine is, why it is important, and who its enemies are, so they know what their role is in the future."
One child announced: “When I grow up, I want to blow myself up among the Zionists and kill them in a suicide bombing on a bus." How happy that must have made his parents and the principal.
Those who think this kind of indoctrination goes on in Gaza, where terrorists reign, but is not characteristic of the “moderate” Palestinian Authority in the West Bank ought to think again. Though examples abound – all of which can be obtained from Palestinian Media Watch – a recent gem is worth noting.
A Palestinian NGO intent on educating children about the evils of cigarette smoking recently put on a puppet show in east Jerusalem. In it, one puppet said, "I wanted to stand before the audience and sing to Jerusalem, which is being kept from us. Jerusalem, whose youth are being killed by the Jews. To sing and to say: Jerusalem, we are coming, Jerusalem, the time of death has arrived. Jerusalem, we will not surrender to the enemies or be humiliated."
The second puppet responded, “What am I doing to myself [by smoking]? I, and many other youths like me, think that through cigarettes we will be adults and men. Jerusalem doesn't need youths who hold cigarettes. It needs men who hold machine guns, not cigarettes."
Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank have been relying on Egypt to broker a deal that would facilitate the establishment of a unity government. This is no easy feat, as they are arch-rivals in an ongoing power struggle. But one thing they have in common is an ultimate goal for their mutual enemy, Israel. Under these circumstances, Israeli children won’t be getting the peace they’re taught to seek.
But don’t take my word for it; just ask any Palestinian toddler.
Ruthie Blum, a former senior editor at The Jerusalem Post, is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring,’” soon to be released by RVP Press.