HRW official Jo Becker and Steve Emerson on Palestinian exploitation of children for terrorism, MSNBC ‘The Abrams Report’ July 13 2004
ABRAMS: As Israel explores its options for pulling out of the Gaza Strip, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza are apparently training the next generation of terrorists. In this case, the next generation includes kids as young as 10, maybe even a few years younger than that. And if you think they‘re being trained in some secret location in the middle of the night, try summer camp.
For more here‘s NBC‘s Martin Fletcher in Tel Aviv.
MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Dan, summer camp to Palestinian children has a completely different meaning. For the vast majority is a totally unobtainable luxury, but for some there is an alternative.
FLETCHER (voice-over): School is out and a lucky few Palestinian kids in Gaza get to go to a free summer camp, but the nearest thing to a campfire is this.
FLETCHER: The closest thing to sports is this. It‘s a theme camp and the theme is how to fight Israeli soldiers, how to kill Israeli settlers. The bullets are real. Kids age 10 to 16…
FLETCHER: It isn‘t all academic, either.
FLETCHER: In the years of fighting Israel, Palestinian children have long been on the front lines and outside observers have often asked how come children aren‘t kept safely at home.
FLETCHER: The answer in camp anyway is that kids are actively encouraged and taught to fight from the earliest age.
FLETCHER: The Palestinian Authority says it disapproves of these camps but doesn‘t stop them.
FLETCHER: This one is run by the popular resistance committee, a loose federation of militant groups that leads the fight against Israel. Organizers say the aim is to identify tough kids, natural leaders to train the next generation of militants who will continue the battle against the Israeli occupation. The summer camps have been running for several years and are becoming more organized. Graduates of this camp receive certificates of merit, but in the eyes of these Palestinian children, their real graduation is still to come, on the front lines against Israel.
FLETCHER: Palestinian parents are often angry when asked why they expose their children to danger. They say they don‘t. That they value life as highly as any other parent. But it shouldn‘t come as a surprise, as they say in the theater, if you see a gun in the first act, it‘ll be fired by the third—Dan.
ABRAMS: Martin Fletcher, Tel Aviv. Thanks.
So it seems despite proclamations from the Palestinian terrorists that they‘re not using children, now they are caught on tape. Doesn‘t that violate human rights of the children? Put aside the Israelis and—or maybe are camps like this part of an overall strategy to demonize Israel by sending grade-school-age kids against tanks.
I‘m joined by MSNBC terrorism analyst Steve Emerson and by Jo Becker, advocacy director for children‘s rights at Human Rights Watch and a founding chairperson of the international coalition to stop the use of child soldiers.
All right, thank you both very much for coming on the programs.
Steve, should we be surprised by this?
STEVE EMERSON, TERRORISM EXPERT: Unfortunately Dan, we shouldn‘t be, but we are. Obviously any time we see video of 8-year-olds and 9-year-olds trying to plot and conspired and training to kill people and civilians, it‘s shocking. The fact of the matter is this is far more routine and has been far more pervasive than anyone has actually given thought to up until now. It has existed for years.
The Palestinian Authority openly pays for such camps even though they claim they disapprove. Al-Aqsa Brigades, as well as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Hamas have hundreds of such camps throughout Gaza and the West Bank. Virtually none of it ever gets captured on video. This thankfully did. It shows—and opens a window into the ways these groups are militarizing young generations, Dan, of young Palestinian kids who will turn out, unfortunately, to be killers. They are being manipulated and their lives ruined.
ABRAMS: Jo Becker, I had a long-standing verbal battle with Amnesty International on this issue after a number of children were found to be suicide bombers and they had not openly condemned the use of children by Palestinians until you know we started pushing them and pushing them and finally recently they did something. Has your organization sort of been out on the forefront saying to the Palestinians publicly you can‘t use children. Forget about violating the Israelis‘ rights, but you‘re violating the human rights of these children.
JO BECKER, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Absolutely. In October of 2002 we published an extensive report on the suicide bombings by Palestinian militants in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and we adamantly oppose any use of civilian—sorry, any use of suicide bombers against civilian targets including the use of children.
ABRAMS: But see that‘s the same thing Amnesty said to me at the time and that to me doesn‘t seem to be enough. Because that seems to suggest that you‘re saying suicide bombing is not OK and in particular if you use children. And it seems to me that the focus when it comes to children should be you‘re violating the human rights of the children and that there should be specific reports out there saying you can‘t use children in training, you can‘t use them in suicide bombings, all across the board.
BECKER: You‘re absolutely right. We unequivocally condemn any use of children in military activity and that goes for every individual…
ABRAMS: Have you issued reports to that effect though, specifically on the use of children. I mean that‘s specifically what your specialty is and have you or your organization said, because I know it‘s happened, for example, you know in Sierra Leone and some other countries. There have been specific criticism of the use of child soldiers. Have you done the same thing with regard to the Palestinians?
BECKER: Absolutely. In our report on suicide bombings we had sections that were specifically devoted to the use of children. We had specific recommendations to all of the Palestinian armed groups and to the Palestinian Authority, telling them that they needed to take immediate steps to end all use of children to carry out public education campaigns, to let the entire Palestinian population know that that was not acceptable…
BECKER: … and that they should criminalize such activity and prosecute the people who are abusing children…
BECKER: … because it is an abuse of children…
ABRAMS: Go ahead Steve.
EMERSON: If I may add something. I mean Human Rights Watch does—they focus on violations of human rights around the world and they‘ve done some great work and unfortunately, sometimes their priorities are misplaced. They‘ve done a lot of work about prisoner—alleged abuse in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib or in Iraq or even by the Israelis. I‘ve yet to see an equivalent amount of focus and resources specifically targeting the Palestinian authorities and the Palestinian leadership support orchestration and funding of major suicidal training camps.
ABRAMS: But I want…
EMERSON: … this is really what‘s going on.
ABRAMS: But see, I want to focus on the issue of the children—I‘ll give you the final word Ms. Becker because then I‘ve got to ask Steve a question on a different topic. Go ahead. Do you want to respond?
BECKER: Well in terms of children, we need to put this in context. I mean globally there are about 300,000 children who are currently fighting in more than 20 conflicts worldwide. We‘re certainly concerned about the use of Palestinian children. We know of at least eight instances where children have been used for suicide bombings and dozens of others where children have been carrying out attacks on settlements, attacks on Israeli soldiers. We‘ve seen increasing use of children in throwing moltock (ph) cocktails and armed attacks. But at the same time, the number of Palestinian children that are involved in these activities are a fairly small minority of the Palestinian children that have been affected by the…
ABRAMS: Yes, but that‘s such a cop-out answer, I‘ve got to tell you. I mean to start saying well that‘s only a small portion of the Palestinian children involved in the conflict as a whole, you make it sound like these children are making rational decisions about what they should and shouldn‘t do. It seems to me you should be taking an unequivocal position, which says when it comes to children it‘s different. They don‘t make choices the way adults do and it already—I was about to end the segment, but when you make that final comment, it sounds to me like you are equivocating.
BECKER: No we‘re not. I think you and I absolutely agree on this…
ABRAMS: All right.
BECKER: … that the use of children in military activity is absolutely unacceptable. We do not think that there‘s any excuse in any situation for children to be picking up arms and participating…
EMERSON: But why not make it a major campaign? Why don‘t you…
ABRAMS: All right…
BECKER: It has been a major campaign. We‘ve been involved since 1998 in the coalition to stop use of child soldiers…
EMERSON: That‘s in general. I‘m talking about the use of Palestinian children that are really indoctrinated and end up becoming suicide bombers or terrorists. That‘s the larger pool that you need to deal with.
BECKER: It‘s not—it‘s certainly an issue of concern. It‘s not the largest pool. We‘re concerned about 70,000 child soldiers in Burma. We‘re concerned about tens of thousands of children who have been abducted in northern Uganda, tens of thousands of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We want to campaign against this issue in every corner of the world where it takes place.
ABRAMS: All right. Just make sure you don‘t—you know this is what I get concerned about, is you criticize certain countries and then you leave the Palestinians out because you view it in your framework within your view of the entire conflict and that‘s what I guess I‘m concerned about, but we heard you say you‘re going to stay on them about the use of children here.
Steve Emerson and Jo Becker, thanks so much for coming on the program.