UNICEF says about half the children who’ve died in Gaza during Operation Defensive Edge have been under age 12. (That’s one sixth of civilian casualties, for those keeping count.) In contrast, more than 40 percent of the population is age 14 and younger. Shoot a rocket blindly into the Strip and your chances of hitting a prepubescent child are almost 50-50.
With that in mind, Shlomi Eldar argues that isolation has fed the radicalism of the young men of Hamas’ military wing, along with their delusion that a war with Israel is winnable:
The Qassam Brigades’ militants of today are children of the second intifada. Even before they were recruited or enlisted in the Qassam Brigades, they drank the jihadist messages that the movement spreads among all the needy of Gaza who knock on the gates of its institutions (the dawa — Hamas’ welfare institutions). The great neglect of Gaza in the years Israel controlled it helped Hamas to grow.
In the past, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians worked in Israel, learned its language, got to know its culture and even formed ties of friendship with their Israeli employers. In the course of the second intifada and Hamas’ rise to power, these ties have all been severed. The older generation found itself unemployed and without income and the youth found work with the militant wing of Hamas and the other organizations (Islamic Jihad as well as the popular resistance committees).
These young men, who have not once in their lives left the borders of the Gaza Strip and have never seen Israel, have been fed the stories of the wonders of the Palestinian rocket, which was developed in Gaza’s workshops and can shake Israel. The stories of the glory of Hamas have been impressed well in the young recruits and the doctrine that has been so deeply etched in them has given them the feeling, or the delusion, that salvation could be gained through the rockets that have been developed in Gaza.
And the children who make up a majority of Gazans today don’t necessarily have anything better to look forward to:
A normal life … is nearly impossible in Gaza. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world — home to about 1.3 million Palestinians, roughly one-third of whom live in U.N.-funded refugee camps. The territory is riddled with poverty, its local economy completely stifled by the blockade. According to UNRWA, about 80 percent of the population receives aid. Official Palestinian statistics put Gaza’s unemployment rate at nearly 40 percent, while youth unemployment hovers around 57 percent.
“We have a whole generation who have grown up under occupation,” says Dr. Mona El-Farra, health chair of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. “We have a whole society traumatized, living with extensive psychological damage.”
More than half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 18. They have grown up intimately familiar with war: This is the third Israeli bombardment Gaza has faced in just the past five years. “Even if the fighting ends tomorrow,” Farra says, “The poverty won’t end. All of us, especially the youth, will still be trapped.”
(Photo: Relatives of three children killed during the airstrikes of Israel mourn near the death bodies of children in Gaza city on July 19, 2014. By Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)