Hamas Ups The Ante By Recruiting Hundreds Of Children For Friday Protest

While organizers claim the youth will not be allowed to approach the border, past installments of the “March of Return” have descended into violence

Hamas appears intent on upping the ante amid ongoing tensions with Israel. With the sides on the cusp of war, whereby one small, even unintentional incident, might tip the scale in favor of full-blown conflict, Gaza’s rulers have decided to recruit hundreds of Palestinian children from across the enclave to take part in Friday’s installment of the so-called “March of Return” protests. The children will amass, along with potentially tens of thousands of other Gazans, near the Erez crossing point with Israel in order to denounce the “violation of their fundamental rights.”

The “March of Return” demonstrations have been held for seventeen consecutive weeks along the Gaza Strip border and despite their ostensible non-violent purpose have invariably descended into chaos. More than 130 Palestinians have been killed, mainly by Israeli live-fire, with thousands more injured primarily as a result of tear gas inhalation.

“The protest organizers agreed that the children won’t break into the border,” Hani Masri, a Palestinian political analyst, told The Media Line. “I met with the [‘March of Return’] committee in Gaza a few days ago and we decided to avoid any cause of human loss.” Masri candidly noted that in previous marches Hamas urged participants to storm the border fence with a view to infiltrating Israel; however, by supposedly abandoning this tactic, Masri believes Israel will have a “limited” ability to harm the demonstrators.

“If Israel decides to target the children, despite the fact that they won’t come by the border, that is to be considered a bigger crime than the previous ones,” he emphasized. “The children’s struggle is no less important, but they are not mentally capable to deal with a potential brawl. We have the right to protest, with or without kids. The most important thing is to keep things peaceful.”

By contrast, Abd Lateef Kanou, a Hamas spokesperson in Gaza, asserted to The Media Line that both “peaceful and non-peaceful resistance are legitimate” in the face of any military occupation. “Israel understands what I mean as it paid the price last week for its violence in the Strip,” he said in reference to an Israeli soldier killed by sniper fire along the border on July 20.

When pressed whether precautions are being taken to ensure the children remain safe, Kanou stated simply that Israel’s targeting of them would confirm its “immoral” behavior.

“When there are hundreds of kids who wants to protest against their reality, this clearly demonstrates the Palestinians’ will to achieve their legitimate rights,” he concluded.

Dahoud Shihab, a spokesperson for Gaza-based Islamic Jihad, also vowed that Friday’s “Kids’ Right To Live Freely” protest will be completely peaceful. “We won’t stop the marches for any reason, however we will maintain their peaceful character,” he told The Media Line. “The world needs to understand that the situation is catastrophic in Gaza.”

According to Shihab, during the protest children will fly balloons painted with the pictures of other youth that have been killed by Israeli forces or who are currently jailed in Israel. “Our children deserve to drink clean water, live with dignity, receive good education and not live under constant fear,” he stressed. “Our people are being killed every day and there is no effort to stop that [by the international community].”

Finally, Shihab contended, there is no comparison between the so-called “terror kite” phenomenon—the flying from Gaza into Israel of rudimentary incendiary objects such as kites and balloons—and Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel. “They made a big deal of the fires but so what if a small amount [of Israeli territory] is burned while thousands of acres of Palestinian land has been turned [unviable] because of the occupation and its radical policies.”

While much of the international community has condemned Israel for its use of force to protect its frontier, the United States repeatedly has laid the blame squarely on Gaza’s leadership. “We believe that Hamas as an organization is engaged in cynical action that is leading to these deaths,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah recently told reporters. “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas.”

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