It is summertime in the Gaza Strip and this year thousands of children will be attending summer camps run by the Islamic militant group Hamas. In previous summers the United Nations ran camps catering for as many as 250,000 young people each year but at a cost of $ 12m a sharp drop in donations caused the international body to cancel its programmes.
Instead of the UN camps with their emphasis on sports, civic engagement and promotion of healthy lifestyles Gaza children will now attend programmes emphasizing Islam, politics, and in many cases paramilitary training suggesting a worrying trend that the camps are being used as a training ground for a new generation of militants.
Hamas camp counselors say that children spend most of the day playing normal children’s games in their camps and they argue that it’s only fair that as an Islamic movement they would instruct children about their religion and politics.
Hamas has dominated Gaza’s political and cultural life since establishing almost complete control over the area in 2007 and introducing its strict version of Islam, including gender separation.
This year’s activities for boys will include riding horses and playing football while girls will not participate in sports because it is considered improper but will learn cooking and embroidery instead.